The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 5

Corvina emerged from the trees clustered at the end of the cul-du-sac! It was shocking enough to see a student from my class walking around my neighborhood, but to see someone surface out of the woods was alarming! She wasn’t exactly wearing hiking gear, so it perplexed me as to why she had gone in there in the first place! After that momentary panic, I then spotted a bus pass in her hands, and my jangled nerves got relieved. I didn’t think anyone who was up to no good would be clutching that, and I later found out that it wasn’t a real forest at all, just a cluster of trees blocking the main road! Apparently, pedestrians often cut through there as a short cut, especially if they used the nearby bus stop, so I jumped to conclusions for no real reason! That’s not the horrifying part though! She was about to walk into danger and she had no idea! I had no idea either or else I would’ve gone out there to lead her away from there! Instead, I tried to ignore her and prepared myself to call Lilith, but soon, I espied something that made me change my mind…

            Somebody came out of that vacant home! I almost had a heart attack from the sheer shock of it! I hadn’t lived in that neighborhood for long, but in the short time I had been there, I’ve seen people avoid that house like the plague, so to see a person stroll out of there like they resided there dumbfounded me completely! At first, I couldn’t tell who it was because they were all black, but soon I recognized that vintage, blonde hair-do- it was Damon! His voice confirmed it as he cat-called to Corvina, “Hey baby! Nice outfit!”

            “Uh, thanks!” Corvina tried to elude him as he crept closer to her.

            “You know what would look even better on you?” Damon asked her as he blocked her path.

            Corvina looked at him with the same dead eyes she gave me when I tried to get her enthralled about Hamlet, so I knew she had no interest in him. Completely unenthusiastic about the prospect of talking to him, she answered, “No, what?”

            With a toothy grin, he told her, “Me!”

            “Ugh! Bite me!” Corvina tried to slip past him on the pavement. I was proud of her for refusing his advances, and I wondered how he would take that rejection.

            “With pleasure!” Now, here’s where the true horror I mentioned cam in! It wasn’t just his cheesy pickup line that disturbed me! He lunged at her, and I raced to the front door to save her! As soon as I reached the front porch, I saw Damon’s fangs grow right before he sunk his teeth into her neck!

            A part of me still wanted to assist her, but the feeling at the pit of my stomach dictated my next move. I ran back inside and vomited into the kitchen sink, which was closer than my nearest toilet for some reason. I referred to my squeamishness around blood and guts before, right? Well, watching someone drink from a person’s body was too utterly repulsive for me to handle! I could tell I was on the brink of fainting, but I forced myself to stay conscious! Every fiber of my being fought my limbs from moving, but I wouldn’t let my perturbation stop me from doing the right thing! I did my utmost to march back over there and rescue Corvina! No one else seemed to have noticed the attack, so it was up to the hemaphobic cry-baby to come to her aid!

            When I got to the small mud room just outside my front door, I gazed out the window and watched Corvina’s limp body fall to the ground! Damon wiped the blood off of his face as he headed back to the abandoned house, and the wounds he inflicted on Corvina flowed into the street! I could feel myself ready to faint again, but I wouldn’t let myself do it! I erased Lilith’s number off of the intended call queue and dialed nine-one-one. As soon as they picked up, I relayed to the operator, “He… killed… her…!” I didn’t’ say anything else, I ended up passing out after all!

            While my eyes were still closed, I heard some scratching noises, and my thoughts went straight to what my realtor said about the strange sounds that came from that creepy house. I concluded that Damon must have been celebrating his victory in some demonic way, so I bolted up to investigate his nefarious actions! To my surprise, I woke up to see two bemused police officers staring at me from behind the screen door! One of them informed me, “Your kitty wants in. He must have been worried about you!”

            “I don’t have a cat!” I groaned as I picked myself up. When I had a better vantage point, I could see a black cat trying to get in, and I immediately panicked thinking it had something to do with that haunted house. “No! Go away, demon! You won’t get me!”

            “Are you okay, sir?” the other officer probed as he shined his flashlight onto my face.

            I shook my head and berated myself for buying into that folly, or at least what I believed was a faulty judgement at the time, and I inwardly reminded myself that the house wasn’t actually haunted except by the murderer who squatted in there. That thought propelled me into action, and I let the officers know, “Yeah, I’m fine! I must’ve bumped my head when I fell. How’s Corvina? Did she survive?”

            The first police officer inquired, “Who’s Corvina?”

            “The victim!” I replied exasperatedly. “Oh, come on! You must’ve seen her body on the way here!”

            “Where was this body supposed to be?” the second officer questioned.

            I barked, “Right there in the road! I wasn’t out that long, he couldn’t have moved her body that fast!” I rushed outside and my abrupt movement made the officers jump out of my way and caused that cat to howl and run into the “woods.” When I came into view of the street, I expected to show the police officers something obvious, but when I saw the street where Corvina had lain, I could see it was now completely empty! “Oh, damn! I guess I passed out longer than I thought! But there’s a man in that abandoned house, and if you talk to him, I’m sure you can get him to admit what he did!”

            The first officer’s eyes grew wide, and he nervously commanded to his partner, “Bill, you go in and check!”

            Bill emphatically refused to do that, “No way, Arnold! You go first!”

            We could send a k-nine unit in there to search the place,” Arnold suggested.

            “We tried that after the fire, remember?” Bill reminded Arnold. “He peed, ran away, and we were forced to retire him!”

            Arnold pondered, “Well then, what do we do?”

            Bill queried, “Are we sure that this guy doesn’t need medical attention first…”

            “I’m fine!” I spat. “But there’s a girl out there who isn’t, so if you two are too chicken shit to go in there, I’ll do it!”

            “Sir! No! Don’t do it! Stop!” both Arnold and Bill urged me to stop. I didn’t listen- I couldn’t, not when a young girl’s life and my own sanity were in question! As I got closer, I could feel that same cold chill in the air as I did in that classroom during third period, so I knew Damon was still there! I couldn’t wait to see his sniveling face cowering in the ashes…

            Before I could set a foot beyond the non-existent driveway, Damon emerged! And he wasn’t alone! Corvina strode alongside him! Her skin had gotten more pale, and her mouth appeared to have gotten more protruded, but she no longer was limp and lifeless as I saw her before! I stood there in total confusion as Damon and Corvina approached the officers, and Damon addressed them, “How can we help you guys?”
            Arnold wanted to know, “You live here?”

            “No,” Damon responded, “I just came here to neck my girlfriend.”

            “Girlfriend?” I cried out, totally ignoring his ironic use of necking. “She turned you down! She hated your guts ‘til you attacked her! I mean, I’m sure she still hated you after she got hurt, but she didn’t live much longer after that!”

            Corvina differed, “I don’t hate him! We were just role playing!” Everyone got quiet for a second, and she interpreted that as befuddlement, so she clarified, “It’s a sex thing!”

            I grimaced at the picture that raised, and Bill brought up, “This gentleman thought you died!”

            “Nope!” Corvina did a little spin to showcase herself and her continued existence.

            “Sorry if we scared you!” Damon apologized in a manner that wreaked of insincerity.

            Arnold evidently didn’t detect any deception, or he chose to ignore it because he advised Damon, “I won’t tell you what to do with your love life, but we can’t have you trespassing on other people’s property. Believe it or not, someone does own that creepy thing! Okay?” Damon nodded, but he never actually agreed to those terms he laid out.

            Bill checked in with me, “Are you gonna be alright? Can we get you anything? We’re here to-.”

            “I’m fine!” I snapped. I’m sure I didn’t sound fine to him, and honestly, I didn’t know how much truth there was to that! I swore up and down that Corvina had fallen to her demise, and yet here she was standing up and talking like nothing had happened! I supposed that she could have recovered from that assault, but it mystified me as to why she was going along with Damon’s story! I considered that she could have been forced to comply, but as the police headed back to their car, she held on to him tightly and gazed at him with adoring eyes! I had no clue what was going on, but as the officers prepared to themselves to drive away, I realized that I’d be alone with Damon and Corvina, and I didn’t feel safe at all with that notion, not until I figured out their motives, so I rushed back into my house.

            I locked the door behind me, and then I hurried over to the front window to observe their next move. I tried to be as discrete as possible, but that was a little hard to do without curtains! I made a mental note to put that on my shopping list as I watched the two of them just standing there. Once they seemed certain that the coast was clear, I saw Damon give Corvina instructions of some sort. I wished that I knew how to read lips in that instance, but not long after I had that inclination, his directions became clear. With a bit of concentration, a cloud of smoke enveloped them, and when that lifted, two bats stood in their place! I watched them fly away in total astonishment! They hadn’t performed any kind of magic trick, they thought they were alone! There was only one explanation, and it was almost too hard to fathom- they were vampires!

            The concept of vampirism boggled my mind, and for a minute, I wondered if I had gone crazy like the police officers implied. I didn’t know what to do with that information, and my head grew so rattled that I couldn’t take it anymore! I had to take a break! I walked down to the living room and turned on the radio, and as a classic rock station blared out, I sunk into my armchair and just zoned out. I stared at the ceiling not knowing how to react to this distressing turn of events…

            The last thing I imagined wanting to do at that moment was to fall asleep, but the next thing I knew, I found myself waking up to some more scratching noises! I feared it was Damon trying to get himself invited in, and my veins began to fill with dread! I worried that since Damon knew that I discovered his secret that he would put in some kind of effort to stop me, and I vowed to not go down without a fight! I sprung up and grabbed the closest object to me to use as a weapon, which just happened to be a television remote. Obviously, that wouldn’t have proved to be very helpful, but I didn’t think I had much of an option right then, I had to make it work! I steeled myself up for an intense takedown, but when I glanced out the sliding glass door leading to my backyard, I didn’t see anyone! I still heard the scratching though! I looked downwards more, and then I saw the culprit…

            That cat had come back! It held a small bowl in its mouth that had a rough appearance as though it had been sitting outside for ages, and it stared at me with sad eyes as it scratched at the door to get in. A part of me hesitated, still leery of this creature’s intentions. I was scared that something dangerous was posing as something innocent as some kind of scheme to lure me into my doom, but as I looked at its piteous face, I could tell it was sincerely hungry. I wasn’t a big animal person, but I certainly didn’t want the poor thing to starve! I let it inside, but I threw out that nasty bowl! I didn’t have any cat food (obviously, why would I?), so I grabbed some leftover Chinese food and hoped that it would eat that. Luckily, it did, and as I watched it happily munch away, I deemed that it would be nice to have an extra set of eyes to look out for intruders, well, mainly Damon. Arnold had called it a him, but it turned out to be a girl! I named her Jett after the song that had been playing right then, and I set my alarm to go off a little earlier than usual so I could get her some actual cat food. Caring for Jett wasn’t something I planned for, but it was a welcomed distraction from the whole vampire thing for a while!

            The next day, I expected Damon to come in and make some kind of vague threat to me, or I believed he would, at the very least, glare at me, but he didn’t! He didn’t seem angry at all! Actually, he stayed his normal bored and lazy self, which I found so odd! How could someone impale another human being and walk around like everything was fine? At the end of third period, I paid attention to him as he walked down the hall, and it was though nothing occurred last night! He hissed at a bit of sunlight that hit him, but then he proceeded to towards the cafeteria as if he didn’t have a care in the world! It puzzled me greatly until Phoebe walked by, and her ignoring me panged me greatly! I hated that I hurt that radiant beauty, but I couldn’t’ think of a way to make it up to her, not while Damon’s antics were plaguing me!

            I expected Corvina to show up and behave like Damon did, but she didn’t! I thought maybe she called in sick, but then her mother called the school to find her! The next day, another student failed to show up, and his parents came to the campus to search for him! The day after that, another girl went missing, and the police came in to investigate her whereabouts! I didn’t see any of them at that abandoned house, but each time a student went missing, I saw another bat hovering around the place! I couldn’t prove that Damon caused this, but I knew it had to be his doing! The cops would never buy my story, and if I tried to tell them, I could have guaranteed that this time they would have committed me! So, the problem haunted me intensely! How was I supposed to defeat Damon’s evil plot?

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 4

A boy got down on one knee in front of a pretty girl, and everyone gathered around to watch the excitement. The girl looked fairly flustered, but her level of discomfort didn’t even come close to his! The boy froze, totally petrified, and he stammered, “Lisa… uh… will… will you… go… home…?”

            He paused, and Lisa waited for him to say more. When he didn’t, she awkwardly responded to him, “Um, yeah, I’ll be going home later!” Lisa clearly hoped he would try again, and when he didn’t, she disappointedly told him, “Okay, I’ll see you around, I guess!”

            Lisa dashed away, and some of the onlookers snickered at the boy’s flub. As the crowd dispersed, the boy had an expression of total agony, and even though it cut into my lunchtime, I felt enough pity for him that I couldn’t just leave him there like that. I picked him up and encouraged him, “Don’t worry, you’ll get another shot at it!”

            “Not if I can’t speak again! I’ve been wanting to ask her to Homecoming for ages, and when I finally got the chance, I blew it!” the boy lamented. “I’m such a loser!”

            “You’re not a loser, and you didn’t blow it!” I reassured him. “She obviously likes you, she’s just waiting for you to say it!”

            The boy moaned, “Oh, why did I freeze like that?”

            I consoled him, “That’s normal for your age! You’re not used to beautiful girls talking to you yet, but as time goes on, you’ll get more opportunities and get more comfortable talking to women. Trust me, it happens to all of us! You’ll grow out of it!”

            At that moment, my eyes beheld a vision! A plus-sized goddess came walking my way! She was a little thicker, but she had all the right curves in all the right places! In addition to that, she had gorgeous, golden-brown eyes that exuded vitality and a smile that suggested a bubbling sensuality that flowed just beneath the surface! Her chestnut hair cascaded down the sides of her face, framing it perfectly, and her light beige skin made her glow like an angel! She instantly entranced me in a way I’ve never felt before, not even with Lilith! My heart pounded wildly as she approached me, and suddenly, I felt as though I had lost my breath! What was happening to me?

            “Hi! You must be Ms. Bronagh’s sub!” She beamed at me, expecting me to confirm this. I felt paralyzed- I couldn’t move my mouth, and I barely could get myself to nod to that! “Well, hello! Welcome to Rosemary King! I’m Phoebe Caracy, the American Lit. teacher!”

            “I… Connor… Connor… Fenmore!” I stuttered.

            She held out her hand for me to shake. “Nice to meet you!” I could hardly lift my hand up to meet hers! Man, was her skin soft! I tried to reciprocate her welcoming sentiments, but I couldn’t get the words out, so I just nodded again. I think she could sense that I wasn’t particularly loquacious right then because she ended the conversation there, “Well, I look forward to working with you, Connor!”

            She brushed past me, and I watched her walk out of the building, still trying to digest her beauty. Once she disappeared, the boy that I had been previously talking to commented, “I thought you said you grow out of it!”

            That made me come back to Earth, and I felt somewhat abashed about my behavior. I chose not to address my actions and instead advised that kid, “Find Lisa and ask her to Homecoming before someone else does!”

            I ran back into the classroom and grabbed the keys to lock it up. I saw the seat where that Damon guy sat, and I admonished myself for losing track of him. I still had no idea he was a real vampire, but I definitely didn’t trust him! Whatever he was up to, it couldn’t have been good! I really wanted to learn more about him, but I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to wait until the next day to do that. I sighed and hurried to the teachers’ lounge to salvage what was left of my lunch break!

            When I got there, I saw a few teachers had gathered at one table to eat together. One was a middle-aged man in gym shorts and a polo that barely covered his pot belly, and I wondered if he was the coach that Colin had referred to earlier. He sat next to a woman who was his total opposite. Her vibrant, tawny skin made his paleness seem downright unhealthy, and she dressed like a total Barbie doll, completely contrasting his grubby wear. Next to her was a man who had to be shorter than her by five inches! He had thinning hair that wasn’t well combed while her curly hair was neatly tied into a ponytail, and he clearly tried to dress nice but paled in comparison to her crisp garbs. Next to him was a dark-skinned woman who was old enough to be his mother, and while her hair was gray, her clothes were bold and colorful. Her frame was large enough that I think that short man could have fit into one of her pant legs! They were all so different, and yet they had obviously sat together on purpose! It came as a surprise to me at first, but the more I studied them, the more it made sense to me. It was like a rainbow- all distinct yet paired well when blended together! It really made Novak Neander look like they lacked diversity!

            After I grabbed my sandwich and juice out of the fridge, I saw that the eclectic bunch had two seats left at their table, and I considered joining them. After all, if I was really going to be at that school for a month, I thought I should make friends with the staff. They seemed friendly enough, but whit the way they were silently sizing me up, I grew self-conscious and decided to sit on my own. I figured that they were all smart enough gauge people within seconds of meeting them, and I didn’t want them to know what a fraud I was! I felt sure that most subs at least somewhat enjoyed teaching, but I only took this position to get my ex-wife to come back to me! I didn’t want to get called out for my phoniness, so I thought it was best that I sat by myself after all.

            Just when I backed up that notion by reminding myself that my lunch already got cut short and that idle chitchat would give me less time to finish my food, the goddess popped up in the seat next to me! I nearly choked on my sandwich as she chirped, “Hi, Connor!” My palms grew sweaty, and I could swear I was shaking, but I forced myself to gain some composure and I waved to her. “You’re new at teaching, aren’t you?”

            “How’d you know that?” I began to panic. If she could discern that in such a short amount of time, then I worried everyone else would get wise to it just as quickly, and my plan to win back Lilith would fall to pieces!

            “I was just as nervous on my first day,” she related to me. “I tried to introduce myself to the class, but I couldn’t speak! I said I was ‘Miss… Um…’ And for the first year, everyone called me Miss Um!” We both laughed at that, and then she asked me, “What’d you do before you became a teacher?”

            I hesitated for a minute just trying to soak in the fact that this stunning woman even wanted to have a conversation with me, but I didn’t want to do her the disservice of not engaging with her! That would have been rude, and I didn’t dare to hurt her feelings, so I answered her, “I was the division leader of a sales company in Philly.”

            She remarked, “Wow! That’s quite a different career than teaching!”

            “Tell me about it!” I chuckled. I was glad that she took notice of that! The whole point of this scheme was to show to Lilith that I had changed, and until now, I wondered if I had been effective or not. It made me ponder why Lilith hadn’t seen that and come back yet, but my brain wouldn’t let me process that, not while I had this radiant enchantress there in front of me!

            “So, what made you go through such a drastic job change?” she posed to me.

            You know how I just mentioned that I couldn’t think about my ex with Phoebe in my periphery? Well, I didn’t know how to discuss this without talking about her! I wasn’t sure why, but somehow, I felt guilty for bringing Lilith up to her. Even though my reasoning for doing so made no sense at the time, I did later think that I had made the right decision because it’s just tacky to bring up your love life at work! After giving it much more thought than she probably expected, I cobbled together an honest explanation without the stickiness my wife’s role played in this, “I loved sales, but I cared about it way too much! I didn’t have much of a life outside of work, and I wanted to gain a more well-rounded life. My mom used to work for the school district, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

            Phoebe queried, “How do you like it so far?”

            Another difficult question! She was really good at finding those! I certainly didn’t want to disclose that I hated doing this and was just waiting for an excuse to quit on my first day of a month-long assignment! Especially not to her- I could tell she had a real passion for education, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings with my jaded views on it. I glanced at my watch, and I saw that lunchtime was nearly over, and my body filled with dread just thinking about interacting with those apathetic students who stared at me with those dead eyes as I tried to have a proper discussion on a play that none of them read! Suddenly, I got inspired with something I could divulge to Phoebe, “I’m having a little trouble keeping the students’ interest in things.”

            “Really?” she reacted in surprise. “You struck me as a good salesman, so how is that possible?”

            “I was a great salesman, but what does that have to do with…?” I puzzled. I phrased it in the least critical way possible, but her logic behind that hadn’t come together for me at all.

            She recommended to me, “Well, you’re good at sales, so why don’t you sell them on it?”

            The school bell rang, and bells started ringing in my head too! I had no clue why I didn’t think of that on my own! I wanted to thank her for giving me that stroke of brilliance, but I think she could see it on my face. She gave me a warm smile as she got up, but before she left the room, she pat me on the back and genially regarded me, “See you around, Connor!” Her hand felt so warm! I savored the sensation as I watched her glide out of the room, and as soon as she left, I saw that the older lady was smirking at me in a knowing way. I was mystified as to why at that moment, but I didn’t have time to spare to think about it too much. I wolfed down the rest of my food and rushed to get back to the classroom as fast as possible!

            I didn’t follow Phoebe’s suggestion right away since I didn’t have a minute to devote to researching the material. The next three periods practically mirrored the first half of the day except, in period six, a girl named Corvina scared me at first! Like Damon, she had pale skin and wore dark colors, but as she opened her mouth to say that she thought Hamlet was a dumb name, her teeth appeared to be regular sized, so I no longer believed that she was in the same boat as Damon!

            At last, the final bell rang, and I think I was more excited than the kids were to go home! I wanted to relax at my house, but I had homework of my own to do! I took home the textbook to study the play, which I’m pretty sure was against the rules, something about not taking school property off campus… But I had every intention of bringing it back! Oh well, regardless of that, I was glad I had done that because I had plenty of ammo in my arsenal for the next day! I watched them file into the room in that lackluster manner with amusement- they had no idea what was coming to them! As soon as everyone was seated, I stood up and conversed, “So, did you guys catch the dirty joke they said in Hamlet?”

            Everybody perked up when they heard that! “There’s a dirty joke in there?” one student gasped.

            “Oh, yeah! There’s actually a lot of them! But there’s one scene in particular where Hamlet’s girlfriend pays him an innocent compliment and he makes it about sex,” I illuminated to the class. “And there’s lots of violence in the story too! I’m actually surprised they let children read it!”

            “Really? Wait, what’s this book about?” another student probed. As I compared it to a popular television series about a power struggle and relatives sleeping with each other, the class soon became enamored with Hamlet! I felt quite proud of myself- just like when I landed a big deal, I relished in this victory!

            When I went to the teachers’ lounge, I found Phoebe at the microwave, so I rushed over to her and gushed, “Thank you so much for that tip! It totally worked!”

            Phoebe slyly expressed, “You sound shocked! I’m not, I knew you could do it!”

            “I didn’t!” I confessed. “For a while, I thought I was gonna be a terrible teacher! I’m so glad it worked out! If it didn’t, Lilith probably would never come back to me, so I’m-!”

            “Lilith?” Phoebe repeated.

            Oops! I let it slip! I cringed at the discomfort I caused, and I still wanted to avoid telling her the truth, but at this point, I didn’t think I had any other choice but to explain myself! “My wife. Truthfully, she left me for another guy ‘cause I paid more attention to my job than to her, so I left that place and took up teaching to make sure my schedule fit in with hers.”

            She questioned me, “So, you gave up your entire life just to impress a cheater? Really, she doesn’t sound like she’s worth it!”

            I got defensive when she implied my ex was a tramp, so I bellowed, “Hey, I was in the wrong! Not her! I drove her into the arms of another man! It was my fault! I’m the one who has to prove themselves, not her! Don’t blame her!”

            She sheepishly responded, “Okay, sorry!” She immediately brought her lunch to the eclectic teachers’ table, who all shook their heads at me. I resigned myself to the concept that I just screwed up any chance of having the staff like me, and as I ate my food, I prepared myself to get used to eating alone. I felt guilty for the way I made Phoebe feel, but I also still felt a little stung by her assertion. Blending all of that drama with the elation of getting through to the class made me feel so mixed up, and I went home trying so hard to process it all. I almost forgot to call Lilith to regale her about my day. Just as I was about to dial her number, I looked out my front window and forgot about everything as I became a witness to something horrifying…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 3

It’s funny, even though I graduated high school twenty years ago, getting called into the principal’s office still makes me nervous! I mean, I hadn’t even started working at Rosemary King high school yet, so logically, I knew that I couldn’t have messed up yet, but a part of me feared that he had gotten a hold of my track record as a substitute teacher so far and planned on recommending me to get fired! I couldn’t let that happen! Even though I didn’t enjoy my work at the moment, I had to keep it so I could prove myself to Lilith! If I couldn’t keep any other job except for my old sales position, then her accusations would prove correct and she’d never come back! I suddenly felt guilty for not making more of an effort to do well here, and I hoped he would give me another chance to do better…

            A student sitting next to me in the row of chairs outside of the principal’s office stared at me judgmentally, and I realized how silly it must have looked to see an adult acting so nervously while waiting to see someone who’s supposed to be their peer! “How’s it going?” I asked as casually as I could, hoping to make up for the scaredy cat image I portrayed. I don’t think it worked!

            “Not good!” he answered. “I got sent to the principal’s office!”

            “Oh, right!” His reply made me admonish myself for opening with that line. “What’d you do?” He gave me a hard stare, and I quickly realized that I may have broached on an overly personal subject, so I apologized, “Sorry if I crossed a line! I was just curious!”

            The boy seemed a little surprised I was engaging in a normal conversation, and I surmised that he probably got yelled at a lot. Based on his punk attire, I guessed that he was a frequent visitor to this room. It would explain why he didn’t show any nerves for being there, unless he was just really, really good at hiding his feelings! He shrugged and then admitted, “Coach Jackson wanted me to do a chin up, and I said no. Then he was like, ‘Come on, everyone else is doing it! Why don’t you?’ Then I told him, ‘You’re not doing it! Come on, Coach! Lead by example!’ Then everyone was trying to get him to do one, and he got mad and sent me here.”

            I snickered at that, but then I remembered I had a position of authority over him, so I put on a more serious face and advised him, “Listen, kid, adulthood is full of doing things you don’t wanna do! You can be defiant as child, but if you try that when you’re older, you won’t get very far! So, if I were you, I’d get used to it! You would have been better off just doing a chin up, it beats getting in trouble with the principal!”

            “Oh please!” the boy scoffed at my pearls of wisdom. “Adults have total freedom! You can do whatever you want!”

            “Ha! If that were true, do you think I’d be here right now? Does it look like I’m enjoying myself at the moment?” I shot back. He couldn’t argue with that, and I smirked at my miniature victory.

            A Hispanic man in his late fifties popped out of the office and queried, “Connor Fenmore?”

            I jumped slightly at his abrupt appearance! I almost forgot why I had been summoned there! “Yes,” I confirmed.

            He invited me, “Come on in!” My nerves returned to jangling as I followed him inside.

            He had a very fatherly smile, and his glasses were rounded in a way that reminded me of this cartoon owl from a television commercial. He wore a checkered sweater vest over his dress shirt, and nothing about his visage suggested that I should feel intimidated right then, but I still felt edgy! He introduced himself, “Hello! I’m the principal here, Manuel Palillo!”

            “I know! I mean, I suspected as much with your name on your desk! Unless someone just stole your seat!” I tried to laugh in a nonchalant way, but it came off way too squeaky to get Principal Palillo to buy that notion! He paused for a few seconds, but it felt so much longer! Whatever bad news he had for me, I just wanted him to get it over with! He opened his mouth finally, and I braced myself for the worst…

            “Chocolate?” He held out a small bowl of fun-sized bars for me.

            I felt utterly confused by this gesture. I still expected him to scold me for something, not be kind to me! “What?”

            He chuckled, “It helps you relax. I was nervous my first day of teaching high school too, so I know what you’re going through!” Given my backstory, I sincerely doubted the truth of this, but I appreciated the sentiments behind that statement. “They’re children, but they’re beginning to think like adults, so it’s a little daunting! But based on your interaction with Colin, I think you’ll be able to handle it just fine!” He saw the surprised expression on my face, so he went on, “He’s consistently getting sent here for his attitude, and none of us have been able to get through to him! You haven’t even started yet, and you’ve already been a lot of help! Thank you!” He gave me a very warm grin, and I got flustered enough that I think he actually made me blush! I didn’t know what to say, I certainly didn’t want to admit that I bumbled my way through that! Luckily, he offered the bowl of candy to me again. “Eat! It’ll make a huge difference, trust me! When I was a kid, my mother used to give it to me whenever I felt uneasy, and it always worked, so now I pass this bit of knowledge to nervous teachers and students. Well, the good ones anyways! Eat!”

            I could relate to childhood memories providing a source of comfort, so I gladly accepted one of the chocolate bars. As I munched on it, he piped up, “See? Better already, huh?” I couldn’t speak with a mouth full of food, but I nodded vigorously. “Good! Now, we need to talk…”

            As soon as he conveyed that phrase to me, I immediately began choking! No one who says that ever seems to have good news to share! He gazed at me in concern, so I assured him, “I’m alright.” It sort of felt like a lie because my emotional health was questionable, but it was true for my physical health anyways!

            “What were you told about this assignment?” he inquired.

            “I’m filling in for Ms. Bronagh, who teaches British Literature,” I reported. “They asked me if I was okay with a longer assignment, and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ They told me if I could stay here for a couple of weeks, so I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ again. I know she has a lesson plan I can follow, but that’s about it.”

            Principal Palillo informed me, “Ms. Bronagh had a massive heart attack, and she needs open heart surgery.”

            I stated, “Open heart surgery? Recovery won’t take a couple of weeks! She’ll be gone for at least month!” He seemed a little taken aback by my insight on the subject, so I let him know, “My dad was a surgeon.”

            “Ah! Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. How does your schedule look for the next thirty days or so?” he posed to me.

            “My schedule? I…” Honestly, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I liked taking it day by day because I could always say no if Lilith came back and we decided to leave town, but taking a month long assignment would make this gig feel more permanent! I got anxious again, so I requested, “Can I have some more chocolate?”

            He handed the bowl to me and assured me, “I understand it must feel scary on your first day of high school to make a decision like this! You don’t even know if you’ll like it or not! But it would save us a lot of trouble to have the same person the whole time! We’d appreciate it if you tried it for a while, and if you don’t like it, we can find someone else. But if you’re a good fit, it could be more of a permanent stay. So, what do you say?”

            I mulled if over for a minute, and his benevolent nature made me finally relent, “I can probably do it the whole time, and if anything comes up, I’ll let you know right away.”

            Principal Palillo beamed. “Excellent! The school secretary is watching them right now, so you can take over once second period starts. When you tell the class what happened to Ms. Bronagh, just remember that If any of the students seem overly upset, you can send them to our grief counselor. If you have any problems, just give me a call!”

            I thanked him before I headed out, and as I walked towards the classroom, I wondered what exactly I had gotten myself into. On the surface, it seemed like a normal gig, but somehow, I got the feeling I was now committed to something not mentioned on paper…

            As I waited outside of Room One Three Nine, a part of me hoped that when the secretary came out that she would love it so much that she would beg me to let her take over this subbing gig! Just when I was inwardly practicing my gracious acceptance of her proposal, she opened the door with a very frazzled look that made it plainly obvious that I would not have that kind of luck! “They’re all yours!” she grumbled as she hobbled out. That didn’t bode well for me! As I took a seat at the teacher’s desk, I just hoped that my experience would have a better outcome than hers!

            The class slowly trickled in, and no one seemed particularly excited to be there that day. I tried looking on the bright side of the situation and thought that at least if they were bored, they would be less likely to cause too much of a ruckus! Once the final bell rang and everyone was seated, I stood up and introduced myself, “Good morning, class! I’m Mister Fenmore, and I’ll be your substitute teacher for the next month or so. Unfortunately, your teacher had a heart attack and has to have some pretty extensive surgery, so she’ll be gone for a while.” A few students grew concerned to hear this, but no one appeared to have gotten very distraught, so I didn’t bother to mention the grief counselor! Instead, I went straight to the lesson plan. “Okay, according to this, you guys read the first act of Hamlet, and now we’re gonna discuss it.” I had hoped that this alone would spark a lively discussion, making my job super easy, but no one reacted. I hid my sigh as I opened up the textbook. “Alright, question one: What is the overall theme of the story so far?” Nobody made a move let alone supplied an answer! “Come on, someone knows the answer!” Finally, one girl raised her hand, so I called on her, “Yes?”

            “It’s boring!” she opined, which prompted laughter from her peers.

            “Okay…” I know I read this play in high school, but I didn’t recall enough of it to know whether or not that assertion had any merit. “I think the book meant the characters and stuff. How do they feel?”

            Another student took a stab at it, “I think it’s, like, smart ‘cause they talk in Shakespeare language.”

            I knew that wasn’t the right answer, but Ms. Branagh didn’t write down what the correct response was, so I didn’t know how to redress that. I supposed that she had read Hamlet enough times that she had a plethora of expertise on it, and I could understand her not writing down any notes, but I really wished that she had because I felt a bit lost right then! I decided to just move on from that one, “What’s Hamlet’s relationship with the other characters?”

            “I thought Hamlet was where the story was set!” a student put in.

            “Really? He has lines in the play! Did you think that his castle was talking to everyone or something?” I challenged her.

            She reacted with a shrug. “I dunno! Maybe!” It grew harder and harder to hide my groan, and I knew that I was about to embark on a very long month!

            After the disastrous period two class left, I tried to scan over the play so I could have some better ammunition for the next group if they pulled off the same stunts. I had barely started skimming when, all of a sudden, the room grew very cold! I glanced up, thinking that a window had opened up, and what I saw put me into total shock! First of all, this classroom didn’t have any windows. Secondly, and more importantly, the source of chilly breeze seemed to emanate from a very strange kid! He had extremely pale skin and wore all black, including a cape! He had his blonde hair in style I don’t think anyone has used since the Great Depression, and it looked like his eyes were red colored! The iris, I mean, not like my eyes being red from a lack of sleep. My first thougth was perhaps he had just started celebrating Halloween a little early, but the more I stared at him, the more I started to second guess that! He had some facial features that made me believe he was much older than the other students, and his mouth protruded in a way that made me think he had larger than normal teeth. You probably figured out already that I had just met my first vampire, but I had no idea at the time that they existed outside of works of fiction, so I hadn’t reached that conclusion yet! I couldn’t figure out why a sane person would dress like that, but eventually, I just figured he was some kind of ultra-goth. I certainly didn’t realize how much havoc this person would create…

            “You are not Ms. Bronagh,” he asserted to me with a thick Eastern European accent.

            “No, I’m not!” The bell had rung without me knowing it. I had gotten so transfixed by this strange “child” that I hadn’t paid much attention to my surroundings, but I quickly snapped myself back into place. “My name is Mister Fenmore, and I’ll be taking over your class for a while. Your teacher is undergoing serious surgery, so…”

            The strange student lamented, “So sad when blood is spilled like that!”

            Seriously! This dude walked up dressed like Dracula, and he grew excited about the prospect of blood! He wasn’t even trying to hide his vampirism! I had a huge suspicion of his true nature, but my mind still didn’t accept such a ludicrous notion! I theorized that he was putting on an act to build up some kind of image with the other students, so I chose not to engage with that behavior. I began the lesson, and this class had almost the same reaction as the other one! I thought that strange “kid” might have shown some interest in Hamlet since he appeared more mature than the rest, but he didn’t even glance up when I mentioned the death was involved in the play! As the class wrote their final thoughts on Act One, I did their attendance based on their seating chart, and I saw that his name was Damon Karro. I made a mental note to remember that. While he hadn’t actually done anything to pose a threat, his odd demeanor was notable enough that I felt as though I should keep an eye on him! Wouldn’t you keep a lookout with someone so weird and creepy around you?

            The bell rang, and while normally I would jump at the chance to go on my lunch break as quickly as possible, not wasting a minute of my free time, my curiosity got the better of me this time. I didn’t know how much trouble he could cause in a crowded hall, but any small fact I could gleam from his actions would have helped me put this puzzle together that much sooner! When I stepped into the hallway, I saw something totally unexpected…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 2

“Congratulations…” the realtor hesitantly conveyed to me as he handed me the keys from a lockbox to a small, light gray, slightly moss-eaten house. I’m not sure exactly where his reluctancy stemmed from, but I figured that he could sense how profoundly disinterested I was about the whole process. He had no idea how traumatic my September had been…

            “You can’t be serious!” Mister Eddison’s jaw dropped when I came in on Monday and handed in my resignation. “You’re our top sales rep! I thought you were happy here! Why the sudden change?”

            I couldn’t bear to repeat the story yet, and knowing him, he would try to overcome my objections and convince me to stay. I couldn’t do that, not if I was going to prove myself to Lilith! So, I simply stood up and told him, “Sorry!” I started to leave before he could say anything else to persuade me not to go. He tried hard to get my attention as I hurried out of his office, but I didn’t acknowledge that I had heard him at all. I could feel people staring at me as I walked past their cubicles, but I didn’t dare to make eye contact with anyone as I rushed to the exit. Leaving the same company that I had worked at for over a decade was the most difficult thing I had to do… except for maybe encountering that cadaver… I felt bad for all of the people I had disappointed from this decision! I’m sure some of my coworkers were peeved that I didn’t even say goodbye to them, but they had no clue that I avoided them because I couldn’t converse with them and let them tempt into staying! I knew this process would hurt, and it literally did since my concentration had focused on evading hard feelings and not the pole right in front of me! I quickened my gait so that no one could come check on me, which wasn’t easy! Their comfort would have meant a lot, they had become like a second family to me, which made me think that Lilith had a point about this job being more than just a career to me!

            When I got back to the penthouse, I packed my bags and rented a cheap motel room to stay in while I found a new place to live. I didn’t want to sell the place at first because I wanted Lilith to have easy access to our home when she was ready to come back, but without the salary I earned at Novak Neander, I couldn’t afford it there anymore. I reasoned that she could always get my new address when she returned after our house sold, so with that in mind, I put our penthouse on the market. Now, you would think that I would have stayed there until I could sell it in hopes of catching her coming back as soon as it happened, but I tried that for one night and knew it wouldn’t work out. I had no desire to sleep in the same bed that I caught her screwing Lucas on, and I couldn’t sleep on the couch either because everything in that room reminded me of my life together with her! So, I packed what I needed and resolved not to come back until I let the movers in! Even though I couldn’t sleep thinking about her, I tried not have anything that brought her to my mind around me, it only made things worse! It did help me out a bit as I worked on the next phase of my plan…

            I spent hours in the motel looking for a job in one of the school districts in the area. It seemed like a logical thing to do since their schedule could fit whatever job Lilith decided to do when she came back, but sometimes I worried that the fates were trying to prevent me from going down that path. Why? First of all, I had no idea how shoddy the motel internet would be! I traveled for work on occasions, but we never stayed in a resort that had slow WiFi! I know that they’re all on a shared network, but this was ridiculous! Secondly, it was hard to concentrate with such loud neighbors! The people on my right were a family of six- two adults and four children on a single bed, is that even allowed? Those kids sure liked to yell and bang on the walls! When they went to bed, my neighbor on the left woke up. Apparently, he thought his loud music would cover up his drug dealing transactions, but it didn’t! The walls weren’t very well insulated! Eventually, I learned to get things done while right neighbors were at school and left neighbor slept, and I was actually proud of myself for overcoming those obstacles and managing to accomplish what I set out to do- I got a job offer!

            The Terra Belle school district hired me as a substitute teacher. I wanted to stay in Philadelphia originally, but after crunching the numbers, I could see that I couldn’t afford to live in the city with a low-level school worker salary, so I purposely applied to places in the suburbs. I didn’t have a high opinion of Terra Belle prior to moving there, actually, I used to joke and call it Terrible! It wasn’t a dangerous place, much nicer than the hotel I stayed at in Philly, but it had a reputation for being horribly old-fashioned. I didn’t think I would enjoy living here, but I convinced myself that after Lilith returned, we could go back to Philadelphia, so I didn’t think I would stay there for long!

            I moved to a new cheap motel in Terra Belle while I hunted for houses. My new neighbors were a chain-smoking old lady that made the whole area smell like ash and a young man who got way too into whatever movie he watched, so yeah, they were kind of an upgrade! At least the internet worked a bit better there. The penthouse sold without Lilith coming back to it, but I let her know where I was storing our stuff while I bought a new house. I called her every night to give her updates on what I was doing, and while she never actually took my calls, I wanted to keep her informed at all times. Partly for legal reasons, but mostly, I did it to send her continual proof that I really had changed!

            My realtor found a really good deal on a house that had been on the market for several months! I know, with the money I got back from the penthouse, I could have bought a much nicer place to live, but I intended to spend as little of that money as possible so that I could buy a better home when she came back. A more realistic part of me knew that If she did go through with that divorce, I probably would legally owe her half, so I didn’t touch as much of it as I could help, which wasn’t easy! The house on Dusk Lily Lane needed a lot of work! The fence was ready to fall down, and I think I mention the moss on the exterior earlier. The carpet was about as old as I was, and as much as I liked things from my childhood, shag carpeting wasn’t one of them! The water heater blew the second I tried to use the sink too! There’s plenty more I could list, but I won’t bore you with ALL of the details! It disgusted me to think I would live in that shack, but I had to preserve my savings, as I already explained. Plus, I kept telling myself it was just temporary!

            “I’m so glad that this place finally sold!” the realtor expressed gratefully to me. “I was a little worried that I’d have to pay someone to live here!”

            “Is that still an option?” I surprised myself with that piece of humor, I hadn’t felt much like laughter or merriment since that awful day last month! After he chuckled at my quip, I glumly glanced over the home and opined, “It’s not pretty, but it’ll be better than staying in a motel! It’s not the nicest place in the world, but it’s definitely not the worst house in the world! I’m kinda shocked no one else wanted to buy it sooner!”

            The realtor admitted to me, “Well, I don’t usually have a problem selling a fixer upper, but nobody wanted to buy property across the street from the creepy house!”

            I took a glimpse of what laid behind me and saw the most nightmarish building that I had ever seen in my life! The wooden panels looked as though it was flimsy before the structure had apparently caught on fire! Parts of the roof were missing from both the flames and just general damage, and the paint had faded into a strange yellow hue. The driveway had gotten so covered in pine needles that no one could see it anymore, and the mailbox by the street was full of rotted papers! It gave off an eerie enough vibe that it probably would have given even my tough motel neighbors pause! If I knew what actually came out of that house, I wouldn’t have bought the house on the other side of the road! Yes, that house had everything to do with the vampires I keep mentioning, but as a rational human being, my mind didn’t go there! It spooked me a bit with its disturbing visage, but it never occurred to me delve into any supernatural elements concerning that property! All I could think to do was ask, “Why hasn’t that thing been condemned yet?”

            “The owner’s trying to get it done,” the realtor explained, “but every contractor, handyman, wrecker, you name it, no one wants to take the project on!”

            “Then why wouldn’t the city just take it down?” I inquired. “I mean, it’s gotta be a safety hazard at this point! Someone’s gotta do something!”

            The realtor hesitated before he replied, “Well… I don’t think even the city workers wanna tackle this project! Everyone is too scared to set foot on the property much less see what happens when it gets torn down!”

            I furrowed my brows in confusion. “What? What could happen? Dust?”

            “Well, no, it’s…” He sighed, and then he confessed, “There’s rumors that it’s haunted.”

            “Haunted?” I responded skeptically. “Man, people will believe anything nowadays!”

            The realtor elaborated, “Look, I know a lot of buildings have had rumors of ghosts and stuff, but this one might have some merit! People in the neighborhood have heard strange noises at night. Sometimes they hear scratching, gurgling noises, and even screaming! They find random things on their lawn that has no logical reason for being there, like a porcelain doll, an empty picture frame, and even a brick of cheese!” He saw my peculiar stare, so he clarified, “The guy’s a vegan, he wouldn’t have put it there! Anyways, the few people who’ve walked up there immediately felt cold, even in the summer! People think it could be some kind of magical gateway to another world, so they’re afraid of what’ll happen if they destroy the structure!” None of that convinced me, and I guess that was obvious by the expression on my face because the realtor surmised, “So, you don’t seem like you’re ready to pull out of the contract since I didn’t disclose this information to you, that’s good!”

            I shrugged. “I grew up with a man of science, we never bought into that superstitious stuff!”

            The realtor shrugged too. “Well, as long as you’re happy…”

            “I’m not happy!” I let a bit of honesty slip out, but when I spotted the alarmed expression on his face, I added, “But I’m satisfied with our transaction.”

            “Oh, good!” He breathed a sigh of relief. “Listen, I’m late to meet another client. Call me if you need anything!”

            As he walked back to his car, I assured him, “I will!” After I said it, I thought that was a strange thing to promise him. I mean, what would I need my realtor for now that the sale was complete?

            I turned back towards my new home, and comparing it against the eyesore across the street, it didn’t seem so bad anymore! As I went back inside my house, the empty rooms made me feel a little disconcerted, and a part of me wished that my realtor hung around a little longer! I decided to pass the time until the movers got there by calling Lilith. She didn’t answer, of course, so I left another message, “Hey babe! I just wanted to let you know the sale of the house is final! When you come back, we might have a hard time selling it ‘cause the idiots in this Podunk town think a place across the street is haunted! But there’s still enough money left over from the penthouse to-.” The voicemail box cut me off, so I redialed and continued leaving my message, “There’s enough money to buy a decent place in Philly when you come back. Well, the movers will be here soon! All your stuff is here, don’t worry! Call or text me soon, ‘kay! I love-!”

            It cut me off again, so I just left things there. I sighed and went out to the front porch to wait for the movers. There were people outside, so it made me feel less alone. My eyes kept getting drawn to that ugly, abandoned house, and it annoyed me that no one was trying to destroy it. I was just must musing that perhaps I could find someone to volunteer for the job when something shiny caught my attention from the corner of my eye. I could see a small object buried in the flowerbed next to the house (which was really only dirt), so, out of both curiosity and boredom, I went down and unearthed it. It turned out to be a silver spoon! It thought about what the realtor said about random things popping up in people’s yards, but I shook off that notion and reasoned that it probably just slipped out of someone’s box as they moved out. It seemed too nice to throw away, so I took it inside to wash it. I know that piece of silverware may not seem significant, but trust me, it becomes a big thing later!

            Once the furniture was all in, the final phase of my transition was complete! I had really hoped that Lilith would come back before I got to that point, but I assured myself that now I could live my more humble life and really prove to her that I changed. I had already started my subbing job while I was living in that motel, and I hated it! I thought it’d be a cinch since I completed all these grades before, but it wasn’t that simple! The way they teach things now compared to what they did when I was a kid is totally different! I had no clue they had a new way of teaching math! I totally bombed my first day! One class used tablets instead of textbooks, and I couldn’t’ get the teacher’s copy open because they wrote down the wrong password for me! I was teaching this class about dinosaurs, and I couldn’t pronounce any of the dinosaur names, but these little, tiny kids could! I got totally confused when I saw that Pluto wasn’t classified as a planet anymore! Dwarf or not, in the nineties, we called it a planet! I told Lilith all about my misadventures, and she never answered, which was devastating. I did manage to get some rest at the end of the day though because, unlike the motel, my neighbors were quiet, especially at night! I hadn’t heard or seen anything strange from that abandoned house, so I believed that those rumors the realtor told me about were unfounded… until I got assigned to the high school…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 1

Hey, I got a question for you: what does a vampire eat when they dine out at a restaurant? You probably said steak as a play on words to stake, right? Well, that’s wrong! First of all, stakes kill vampires, so why would they enjoy that? Second, if a vampire went to any kind of eating establishment, he or she wouldn’t order off of the menu, all they can consume is blood! Thirdly, a minor point, that place better not serve any garlic, they’re not fans of that! Did that joke come across as cheesy? Sorry, it was just my way of breaking the ice with my story. It also hints at the fact that I may know a thing or two about vampires. Who knew that they actually existed or that their headquarters would center around a small town in Pennsylvania? How did that happen? Well, let me tell you…

            My name is Connor Fenmore, and I lived in Philadelphia for most of my life. My dad was a renowned surgeon at Philly’s busiest hospital, and my mom was a crossing guard. I know, it may seem like an odd match, but in reality, my mom started off as a homemaker to support my dad’s career. When I went to school, she got bored at home, wanted to find a job that fit with my schedule, and wound up working for the school district. I’m sure you’re curious on how any of this has anything to do with vampires, but don’t worry, I’m building up to that. My childhood had everything to do with the decisions I made as an adult and how I ended up stumbling across the creatures that would change my life forever!

            I went to college as a pre-med major, but after I saw my first cadaver, I threw up, fainted, and quickly realized that this wasn’t the right career field for me. Yes, I’m very squeamish, and no, that didn’t help with the whole vampire thing! Anyways, my dad suggested that I could go into pharmaceutical sales, so I switched to a business major. That’s where I met Lilith! She struck me immediately with her curvaceous body, but I didn’t hate her long, blonde hair or light blue eyes either! She was ambitious too, aiming to be a CEO one day! I admire her for many reasons, and luckily, she dug me too! After we graduated college, we got married. We didn’t go on much of a honeymoon though because we both landed entry level jobs in our prospective fields. With a lovely new wife and an exciting sales job, I was in heaven! Life was good, or so I thought…

            Lilith climbed the corporate ladder of a plastics company, and while she hadn’t yet become a CEO, she did end up as an office manager. She had a much higher rank than me, but I eventually ended up as the breadwinner. I grew to be really good in sales and became one of the top sales reps of a marketing firm called Novak Neander. I outpaced almost everyone on a consistent basis, and while I hadn’t made it to management, I did wind up as a leader in my division. I even got to sit in on board meetings! I was really going places in that company, and I earned enough that Lilith could quit her job and stay home with any kids we might have had if she wanted to! Unfortunately, the more I did with Novak Neander, the less I spent at home with my wife. I thought we had a mutual desire to support each other’s career choices just as my parents had, but I thought wrong!

            About two months ago, I woke up knowing that the day would be special, and it was, but not for the reason I thought! I rolled out of bed with a spring in my step, and Lilith was still sleeping, so I gave her a quick peck on the cheek before I got dressed. I made sure to wear my finest suit with the flashiest tie, and I took extra care to make sure my appearance emanated absolute smoothness. I made sure that not a hint of gray popped out of the black as I slicked my hair back with gel, and I even secretly put a dab of face powder on, especially under my eyes so I could show off their beautiful, green shade. No, I wasn’t humble, especially as I admired my muscly physique beneath my luxurious clothes. After I finished my routine, my wife was still asleep, but since it was Saturday, I didn’t want to wake her. Instead, I grabbed a bagel and some coffee in a to-go cup and told her goodbye by the doorway. Before I left, I took a moment to savor all of the posh things in our opulent penthouse suite, and coupling that with the big bonus I knew I’d get at work, I lulled myself into a false sense of bliss as I headed out the door. As I headed to the elevator, I had a feeling everything would change that day, and I end up would proving myself right but not for the reasons I thought!

            I walked into the meeting with a huge smirk on my face just as most of my coworkers did. We almost looked like we had a uniform, apparently we all had the same plan of wearing our most dapper duds! They all clearly thought they stood a chance of winning that sales contest, but what they didn’t know was that while they all went home for dinner that previous night, I took out a potential client and landed a huge, last minute deal! Mister Eddison, our boss, took his spot at the head of the table, and we all grew really quiet. I could see everyone hoping that he would call their name, but I knew that my name would get chosen! Mister Eddison addressed us, “Before I announce the results of our sales contest, I want to congratulate all of you for your hard work this month! Thanks to your extra effort, sales are up twenty five percent this quarter!” Everyone politely clapped at that, but we were all so anxious to hear the results that he didn’t pause for too long. “It was a close call, but the top sales rep of August is- Connor Fenmore!”

            They all applauded for my victory, and I appreciated that, but I thoroughly enjoyed their not so hidden looks of envy so much more as I shook Mister Eddison’s hand! “Thank you so much!” I responded with all of the fake humility that I could muster. “I’m truly honored!”

            Mister Eddison told me, “Now, I’m sure you’re only too eager to rush home and share the good news with your wife, but before you whisk Lilith away to your free Vegas getaway, please join us for a glass a champagne!”

            “Of course!” I obliged. How could I say no? The others may have been miffed about losing, but they were more than willing to have some of the fine reserve that Mister Eddison set aside for the winner, so suddenly their jealousy seemed to vanish!

            “To Connor Fenmore! Thank you for all of your continuous hard work!” Mister Eddison toasted. They all raised their glasses and took a sip. As the alcohol calmed them down, they seemed to genuinely feel happy for me. As we mingled, I was practically floating from joy! While I headed out, I had no idea that I was about to get the rug pulled out from beneath me!

            As soon as I walked into my house, I tried to announce, “Hey babe! Guess what we-!” I stopped mid-sentence when I saw that half of our living room fixtures were missing! I found that incredibly odd, but before I could ask about that, I heard a slow moan coming from the bedroom! My immediate thought was that she got hurt, and after I rushed to the bedroom to check on her, I heard some heavy breathing that only confirmed my theory. I opened the door and queried, “Babe, are you okay?”

            My mind went completely blank when I saw the reality of the situation, which made me instantly felt like I had just walked into a dream! I saw my straddling another man, both of them buck naked! Logically, I knew what I was witnessing, but my brain felt too much shock to actually comprehend what it meant. Lilith had been enjoying herself too much to notice my presence, but the man she was with sure did! He repeatedly pat her arm to get her attention and seriously articulated, “Hey, Lils! Lils!”

            “What?” she finally replied in exasperation. He gestured to what stood behind her, and when she saw me standing there, she grumbled, “Oh, damn! He actually came home early for once!”

            “Lils?” I echoed. A million questions swirled through me, but that new nickname of hers really perplexed me.

            As she and the other guy scrambled to retrieve their clothes, Lilith went on the offensive, “Yes, Lils! Lucas likes to call me that, and I find it endearing! And you know what, what people call me now isn’t your problem anymore!”

            I still hadn’t quite grasped what was going on, so that claim really baffled me. “Not my problem? You’re my wife! We share all of our problems together!”

            “Not anymore!” She saw the vacant expression on my face and knew that she had to spell it out for me. “I’m leaving you, Connor!”

            “What? Why?” The truth of it all finally dawned on me, but I refused to accept it as a sealed fate! Whatever issue had incensed her, I believed that I could still do something to fix it. “Look, whatever I did to make you angry, I’ll work on that! Let’s just slow down and talk it out!”

            Lilith spat, “I don’t wanna talk about it! That’s why I planned on being packed up and gone by the time you got home! But no, you just had to come home early on the one day I wanted you to stay out!”

            After she had gotten fully dressed, she pushed past me in an attempt to walk out of the house. I couldn’t comprehend what I could have said or done to motivate her to have such a hostile attitude towards me, so I shouted after her, “Why are you doing this?”

            “I don’t owe you an explanation!” Lilith shot back as she made a beeline for the front door.

            “After twelve years, I think you do!” I retaliated.

            She froze in her tracks and reluctantly turned back towards me. “Alright, fine! You want honesty? Here it is: our marriage ended years ago! Ever since you got promoted at work, you’ve been married to your job! I almost never saw you, and when I did, you were too tired to spend time with me! I wasn’t a priority in your life, and I got tired of just being a status symbol for you! Lucas really cares about me, so I’m moving with him to Toronto! So, there it is! It’s all out there now! Are you happy?”

            I retorted, “No! You sprang this out of nowhere, you didn’t even give me a chance to make amends for anything! You could have just told me that you wanted to spend more time together! You didn’t say a word, so I just assumed that you supported my career!”

            “You don’t have a career, you have an obsession!” Lilith countered. “Your job isn’t supposed to take over everything! I didn’t want to force you to make time for me- if you really loved me, you would have done that on your own! When things are important, you don’t need reminders to prioritize them! You didn’t try hard to make me feel special, but Lucas does! So, I’m leaving you and going with him! End of story!”

            “No, it isn’t! Okay, I’m sorry! I get it! I always assumed you would support the long hours ‘cause that’s what my mom did for my dad, but that wasn’t fair of me to assume! I could hang back and be the one supporting your career! Just give me a chance to prove it! I’ll quit my job and find something that suits your schedule!” I beseeched her.

            Lilith scoffed at that concept, “You’re gonna quit your job? Sure!”

            I insisted, “I mean it! Don’t take such drastic measures just yet! Let me prove it to you!”

            Lilith denied that request, “You had your chance! Twelve years worth of chances! I’m not wasting anymore time with you! I’m gone! Let’s go, Lucas!”

            Lucas sheepishly came out of the bedroom and plead with me, “Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me!” I wanted to, trust me, but I ahd been so focused on pleasing Lilith that I resisted.

            As soon as I saw her walk out that door, the whole scenario suddenly felt real to me! The thought of her never coming back just crushed me, and my heart felt too heavy to move! I forced myself to anyways, and I tried to catch her in the hallway before they got to the elevator. I knew it was a long shot, but I was so desperate to fix things right away that I went for it. I called after them, “I’ll quit my job Monday, I swear! We can make things work! Please!”

            An old lady popped out of her apartment and scolded me, “Will you keep it down? I can’t hear my stories!”

            I tried to ignore her since time was of the essence, but when I peered over her shoulders, I saw Lucas and Lilith disappear into the elevator! My heart completely sunk, and my knees buckled. Normally, I tried to maintain a macho indifference, but I could stop the tears from flowing in this instance! “She really left!” I sobbed.

            The elderly woman grew disgusted and shuffled back into her home. I was all alone in the hallway, crying like a baby! I must have been pretty loud because I could hear her turn her soap opera up!  I couldn’t stop thinking about my hurt, but I did happen to tune in when a character exclaimed, “I will have my revenge! Time to take action!” That actually got me to start thinking; no, I didn’t plot any kind of vengeance against my wife, but just hearing that man decide to do something about his problem inspired me to do the same! I got up and marched back to my penthouse! Lilith didn’t believe I could change, but I would prove it to her!

            Now, you’re probably wondering what my sordid love life has to do with the vampires I mentioned earlier. Well, what happened next led me straight to them…

The Unsuper Heroes II, Chapter 20

A large beast with the body of a bear and the head and claws of a lizard came snarling towards them! The heroes all panicked and tried desperately to escape their confinement, and Exelda deplored, “After all we’ve been through, I can’t believe it ends like this!”

            They winced as it crept closer, preparing themselves for a grisly outcome, but the monster’s footfall met with the stick that Stocastin brought in to use as a torch, making the monster slip! It slid across the cave and into the pit of jackals where it got immediately ravaged! Akintos kidded, “I think the other guys know the feeling!”

            “You can’t be serious!” Thanamenti bellowed. “They’re tied up, totally unable to move or use their powers… This should have been a cinch! How could it possibly have gotten messed up” Dason opened his mouth to say something impertinent, but Thanamenti cut him off, “Don’t you dare give me another sassy remark or I swear, I’ll-!”

            “You’ll what? Kill me?” Dason grinned at her mischieviously.

            Marcin wondered, “So, now what? We sit here and listen to their drivel ‘til Echinda gives birth to another one?”

            Mercinon responded to him, “What else are we supposed to do? Ugh! That could take forever! I wish I had something to do in the meantime… like getting a makeover!” Before Thanamenti could rejoinder, a shop appeared at the end of the cave with a sign that read: Salon. “Oh, you’re so kind! Thank you!”

            “Wait, what? I didn’t…!” Thanamenti stared at her staff as if she were questioning its betrayal to her.

            “Um, I wouldn’t go in there if I were you!” Marcin cautioned Mercinon.

            As Mercinon continued to stroll over to the beauty shop, Mercinon regarded Marcin, “You’re absolutely right! I wouldn’t recommend you go in there either! I’m sure these guys are good, but I doubt they’re miracle workers!” He opened the door and greeted the employees, “Hello there! Can we start with a haircut or should we-?”

            Once the door became unshut, that wall of the cave disappeared, creating a window into a world with fire, brimstone, and a very pleased Hades standing before them! “Hades! You’re not allowed in here!” Thanamenti snapped.

            “I’m not in there, and neither is he!” Hades indicated to Mercinon. When Mercinon realized that he had inadvertently stepped into the Underworld, he tried to run back inside of Thanamenti’s cave. Hades used his staff to pull him back, and he taunted him, “I don’t think so!”

            “You’re so mean! What did I do to deserve this?” Mercinon thought about the words he uttered and grimaced. “Oh right!”

            Hades told Mercinon, “Time for you to pay your fare!” He conjured up a mop and bucket.

            Mercinon’s eyes widened widely at the prospect that Hades proposed. “No! A Few seconds ago, I was destined to be king, and now I’m doing peasant work? It’s not fair! I… Wait a minute! I have a coin now! I don’t need to…” He searched all over his toga and fretted, “Oh no! Where is it?”

            “Looks like it fell in the pit of jackals!” Marcin informed him.

            “Well, don’t just stand there! Go in and bring it to me!” Mercinon ordered.

            Marcin refused, “Forget it! The days of you bossing me around are done! You can go rot in Tartarus, but I think I’ll stay here in the Netherworld!”

            Hades shot that concept down, “I don’t think so!” He pointed his staff at Marcin, and Marcin got transported into the Underworld!

            “Hey! That’s not right! You aren’t allowed in my cave, so your magic shouldn’t be allowed in here either!” Thanamenti contended with Hades.

            “You used your magic to steal things from my world!” Hades pointed out. “Incidentally, I’ll take it back now!” He aimed his staff towards one of the cavern rooms, and a fish-like monster flew into the Underworld.

            Dason questioned, “That’s Echinda?”

            Mercinon noted, “That’s what I said!” He turned to Marcin and stated, “Well, if I gotta spend an eternity getting tortured, at least I’ll have a friend to agonize with!”

            “Actually, he paid his fare already!” the giant skeleton let him know as he docked his boat on the rocky shore.

            “When you killed me, I had a coin in my pocket. See ya, buddy!” As Marcin climbed into the boat, he revised that sentence, “Well, actually we’re not really buddies, and I won’t be seeing you again, so none of that is true! Toodle-oo!” He waved his fingers at him as they sailed away. Mercinon started to weep about his situation, and Hades made him, the mop, and the bucket disappear.

            Hades cast a spell in the newly created gateway between the Underworld and the Netherworld, and he announced to Thanamenti, “It’s sealed now, so you can’t hide from me anymore If you try to overthrow society again, you will pay!”

            Thanamenti complained, “I hadn’t even thought about doing it again yet! I can’t get over you creating that illusion in my world! You had no right to do that!”

            “I didn’t do that. Looks like you have a new enemy with apparitional powers! Well, see you around!” He smirked at her and started to leave, but he stopped in his tracks when he remembered something. “Oh, you guys probably want out, huh?”

            “No, I wanna have my baby like this!” Exelda expressed sarcastically.

            Hades freed them, and Exelda embraced Dason fondly. Dason chirped, “I’m so happy to see you in the light again! Wait, how does this place stay lit? There’s no candles or windows?”

            Exelda shrugged. “I don’t know! I… Wait! I just revealed that I was pregnant to you!”

            “Technically, I did that first,” Kefalia put in. “Just like I did with the senate leaders, remember?”

            “You’re not surprised?” Exelda asked Dason.

            Dason answered her, “Nah! These buffoons aren’t good at keeping secrets! Plus, I’m just so elated to have you in my arms again! Hey, are you nauseous right now?” The others found that inquiry odd, but Exelda’s face lit up as she shook her head. Dason got down on one knee and adoringly addressed her, “Before anything else crazy happens, will you be my wife?”

            Happy tears rolled down Exelda’s cheeks. “Yes!” Dason beamed, and Hades made a ring appear on her finger.

            “Aw!” Kefalia cooed as Exelda and Dason kissed.

            “That makes me feel all warm inside!” Narcius clutched his chest in a sentimental way, but then his face soured. “No, wait, that’s just heartburn! But still, my deepest congratulations to the two of you!”

            Stocastin rejoiced, “Huzzah!”

            Thanamenti spat, “Yeah, that’s great! Could you leave my cave sometime soon?” Dason, Exelda, Stocastin, Narcius, Kefalia, and Akintos all merrily headed out.

            Cyrek stood in front of the capitol building with Krimeno and the other senators behind him. He announced to the group of scribes that had gathered before him, “We’re pleased to report that we’ve made significant progress in our efforts to eradicate the riots from Chaos!”

            “This isn’t going to be like when you claimed that you made significant progress in dropping the housing prices, is it?” one scribe probed.

            “Hey! One percent is still a percent!” Cyrek shot back. “And no, this news isn’t like that. I was going for a bit of dramatic flair, but that’s ruined now, so I’ll just say it then- the riots have stopped completely! Everyone can rest easy now, so you probably don’t have anymore questions for me, right?” All of the scribes raised their hands, which made him grimace.

            He called on the closest scribe, who inquired, “Will the government be holding a public funeral for the casualties of the invasion of senate building?”

            Cyrek replied, “There was only one casualty, and that was Mercinon. Normally, we’d gladly do that for a popular public figure, but considering he and his followers tried to kill us, that’s going to be a big, fat no! Next!”

            “Will Princess Aleta face repercussions for the Konna scheme?” another scribe pondered.

            “I’m glad you asked that! We have the royal family here to comment! Come on out!” He motioned towards the palace, and Aleta and Dason almost stepped out, but when Cyrek spotted Dason and the heroes approach from behind the scribes, he motioned for Aleta and the other Dason to stay back. “Just kidding, they’re over here!”

            As Dason and the heroes came up to the podium, a discerning scribe asserted, “Wait, but that guy looked an awful lot like Dason!”

            Dason vocalized to him, “Oh, that’ll be my son! He looks more and more like me each day. I just wanted to thank our heroes- Stocastin, Akintos, Narcius, Kefalia, and Exelda- for their valiant work in curtailing the recent unrest in the kingdom! The scribes politely applauded that sentiment. “And I have something much more exciting to share with you all…”

            “More exciting than our polis avoiding total destruction?” an inquisitive scribe wanted to know.

            “Yes,” Dason affirmed. “Exelda and I are going to get married!”

            Exelda showed off her ring to everyone, and they all marveled at it as they scribbled down this revelation. A curious scribe queried, “When is this union happening?”

            After shrugging a little, Exelda told him, “We don’t know yet, it just happened!”

            “We’ll keep you updated on our plans when we figure it out,” Dason assured them.

            “Okay, well since this engagement kind of stole our thunder, that’ll be all for today! Thank you!” Cyrek concluded. The scribes all shouted out their unanswered questions, but the senators and the heroes all hurried inside to discuss things.

            As soon as they spotted their arrival, Aleta and Impusa ran out to greet them. Aleta celebrated, “Big brother, you’re back!”

            After Aleta hugged Dason, Dason revealed, “I am! And I brought a new sister for you!”

            “Ooh, did you parents have another baby?” Kefalia cooed.

            “Oh my gods, you proposed!” Aleta surmised what happened.

            Exelda showed Aleta her ring, and Aleta shrieked with delight before giving her a hug. Impusa supposed, “Let me guess, you proposed in the Netherworld in front of your vanquished foes?”

            Dason puzzled, “How did you know?”

            “Because you had your first kiss in front of your enemy’s corpse! Real romantic! You two weirdos are made for each other!” Impusa commented with a wry smile.

            “I’m so excited to have a sister now!” Aleta gushed.

            Exelda remarked, “Thanks! I hope Andreos says the same thing about his new little sister! Especially since she has superpowers, I don’t want him to get intimidated!”

            Cyrek pondered, “How do you know?”

            “She created an illusion that duped Mercinon into opening up a gateway between the Netherworld and the Underworld, and no one else has the ability to create a false image like that!” Stocastin explained.

            ‘She can use her powers much sooner than I could!” Narcius marveled. “At least I think! It’s not like I could use my super speed in my mother’s womb!”

            An incredibly wrinkled old woman appeared before them, and with a mischievous grin, she stated, “She’s going to be a handful!”

            Akintos screamed at her visage, and then he apologized, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, I just never saw anyone who looks were so… Someone help me out here!”

            “It’s okay, I get that a lot,” the woman forgave him.

            “Excuse me, ma’am, but due to the recent attack to the building, we’re not allowing anymore visitors,” Cyrek relayed to her.

            Krimeno projected unexpectedly, “Hey, I know you!”

            Cyrek amended his sentence, “Oh, you do? Well, in that case, you may-.”

            “Wait, we saw you in Mercinon’s palace!” Exelda realized. “Aren’t you Mercinon’s mother?”

            “Why, yes! They call me Kamazota. Have you seen my little boy?” Kamazota asked. “I’ve been searching for him everywhere!”

            Narcius told her, “Well, he was in the Netherworld…”

            Kamazota nodded. “Ah! No wonder I couldn’t find him! Do you mind if I wait for him here? It’s hard to travel on Earth with all the gods watching your every move, you know?”

            “I can’t say we can relate!” Akintos riposted. “But Mercinon isn’t coming here! He’s not in the Netherworld anymore either- he’s back in the Underworld, so…”

            “Oh, darn! This complicates things!” Kamazota grumbled. “Oh well! Thanks for the heads up! I’ll see you later!”

            As she hobbled away, everyone stared at her with wide eyes. After a bout of a disturbed silence, Kefalia ranted, “No, no, no! The last time this happened, Mercinon came back and caused all this trouble! It can’t happen again! But it really can’t happen again since Mercinon is in the Underworld, right?” Everyone stayed quiet, so she repeated, “Right?” No one had an answer, so they all decided to toss the issue aside and returned to their previous conversation.

The End

A Dash of Inspiration

You can’t always choose the circumstances you face, but you can choose how you react to it! You can look for the bad aspects of it & make it worse, or you can look for the good & make bad situations a little better. The choice is yours!

I’m in the hospital waiting to see when the doctors want to schedule my gallbladder surgery. It’s scary to think about, but I’m focusing more on the fact I’ll be better soon! Wish me luck! 😊

The final chapter of The Unsuper Heroes II will be released a little later than planned. Stay tuned!

The Unsuper Heroes II, Chapter 19

They all expected Akintos to announce that he found something profound after that gulp, but instead, he let out a burp! He noticed that everyone was staring at him, so he wondered, “What? Did I miss something?”

            Stocastin responded, “Alas, you have not! It appears that putting the golden feathers together had no effect.”

            “Great! We went through all that hard work only to have nothing happen!” Narcius griped. “So, now what? We gotta keep roaming Chaos ‘til we find the Netherworld entrance?”

            “I guess so,” Exelda lamented. “I really hoped that once we found all of the feathers that our job would get easier, but apparently, that’s not happening! I suppose we could go back to the city and pour through the maps again… Unless you wanna explore the Synorolofus Mountains first. I think it’s starting to go out of Chaos’ territory, but they are right here!”

            Akintos denounced that plan. “Oh no! We’ve been doing so much walking that I actually miss doing research! Besides, these hills are so quiet that I doubt that the Netherworld or anything is out there! I’m not sure why they even bothered to build these stupid watchtowers!”

            Kefalia disagreed with his last point, “I don’t blame them for being careful around here! I’d wanna keep watch too if I lived near a weird, glowing cave!”

            “A glowing cave? Where?” Exelda desperately searched for it.

            “Down there!” She indicated to a small, cavern entrance towards the bottom of the ridge across from them. “Why would anyone build a palace around that creepy thing?”

            Exelda rejoiced, “That wasn’t there before! The feathers opened up the entrance to the Netherworld! Come on, let’s go!”

            Stocastin requested, “Wait!” He sifted through the debris from the broken tower and picked up a long, slender piece of wood. “We might need this!”

            “Why? I think your sword will work better as a weapon than that thing!” Narcius differed.

            “I meant as a source of light in case that illumination does not cover the entire breadth of the section of the formation’s interior in which we must travel through,” Stocastin countered.

            Kefalia puzzled, “Does that stick light up?”

            Stocastin enlightened her, “No. Stocastin would use his abilities to light it up, and-.”

            Exelda interjected, “Stop wasting time! We have a prince to rescue and a kingdom to save! Come on!” The urgency in her voice was so pronounced that they heeded her word without anymore fuss and followed her towards the glowing cave.

            “Are you sure this’ll work?” Mercinon asked Marcin as he climbed onto a pair of stilts.

            “It’s the only way we can make you appear taller to your subjects!” Marcin answered. “Unless you wanna roam the streets in a shoe with a heel so large that it gives you a considerate boost in height…”

            Mercinon contemplated that concept. “Hmm… High heeled shoes… What a novel idea! What do you think, Thanamenti? Would it look too-?” He stopped mid-sentence when he discovered that Thanamenti had left from his sight. “Oh, when did she leave? Is she sending out more monsters or something?”

            Marcin glanced around the cave and spotted her lying on the floor. “Oh, she passed out again!”

            “Oh, strange! I thought she finished drinking for the day! Oh well! I’ll just try these things out for a while!” Mercinon mounted the stilts, and while he was shaky, he relished in the fact that he could do it at all. “Hey! These aren’t too bad! After a little bit of practice, I’m sure I can-.” All of a sudden, Dason transformed back into a human! The abruptness of the moment threw Mercinon off so much that he lost his balance and fell to the ground! “Ow! My head! Good thing I’m already dead! I’d hate to have that as the reason I go out!”

            “Hey guys…” Dason’s speech got muffled since he remained in the bird cage and could hardly fit inside of it anymore. “I’m happy to have my old body back, but could you help me out of this thing? Or at least get a more size appropriate enclosure?”

            Marcin panicked, “Oh no! He’s a person again! You know what that means, right?”

            Mercinon nodded his head. “Yup! Thanamenti is doing spells in her sleep! Sad! We should take that staff away from her when she’s unconscious!”

            ‘No! It means that the royal family’s heroes reversed the spell!” Marcin emphatically told Mercinon.

            “This is really uncomfortable!” Dason stated.

            Mercinon regarded the issue that Marcin raised. “Did they? That sucks! But… eh! As soon as Thanamenti wakes up, she’ll send out another monster and hopefully this one will actually rid ourselves from them! Ooh, I hope it’s another minotaur, but, like, a more evil one that won’t get swayed to their side! We’ll see how they like getting eaten alive! In the meantime, can you help me get back onto these things?”

            Marcin contended with him, “We don’t have time to practice! We have to prepare for their arrival!”

            “They’re coming here?” Mercinon questioned.

            “Ugh! Yes!” Marcin grew frustrated by Mercinon’s slow uptake on the crisis at hand. “We have to defend ourselves since we can’t use Thanamenti’s magic right now! Oh, I wish we had her conjure up something for us to defend ourselves with in case she’s out of the picture!”

            Mercinon resumed walking on his stilts and assured Marcin, “Relax! They may have reversed the spell, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll find the Netherworld entrance immediately! By the time they get here, I’m sure Thanamenti will have woken up.”

            Marcin posed to him, “And what if she doesn’t? We need to protect the premises! We’re the only ones who can!”

            Mercinon urged him, “For the love of Pasithea, will you calm down? Leaving the cave unguarded would be idiotic! I’m sure she has some kind of safeguard to prevent them from coming inside!”

            “Actually, I believe that the magic that kept the cave concealed was the only means of protection!” Stocastin asserted. Mercinon got so shocked by the heroes’ arrival that he tumbled down again!

            “We did have to move some of her stuff out of the way though. Man, she has a lot of books!” Kefalia held up a couple of texts with titles revolving around the occult.

            Marcin stooped down to Thanamenti’s level and shook her by the shoulders. “Please wake up! Please wake up!”

            Mercinon chided Marcin, “Will you quit freaking out? It’s not like the last time when we had to fight for our lives! Oh, wait, you weren’t there ‘cause I had already killed you. Whatever! It’s not like when we were alive, they can’t kill us since we’re already dead!” He saw that the heroes looked surprised to hear that, so he dared them, “Don’t believe me? Go on, give it a shot! Nothing will happen, but you can try!”

            “Okay!” Exelda accepted his offer and lobbed off his head.

            “Ow! Ugh, that was a bad idea!” Mercinon frowned as he put his body back together.

            Akintos delighted in this spectacle, “Neat! I wanna try!” He aimed his palms at him and burned off his hand! After he grew a new one, Akintos remarked, “Cool! It’s like that self-regenerating chicken!”

            Dason snickered derisively at Mercinon, who somewhat vexedly addressed the others, “Well, I think you get the picture, so we-.”

            “No fair! I wanna try!” Kefalia flew at him before anyone could object and gave him a swift kick, sending him barreling into the pit of jackals! Dason roared with laughter while Marcin forgot his previous woes and watched this scene with amusement.

            “Wow, that really hurts!” Mercinon moaned as he crawled out of the perilous chasm.

            “It gets a little better after the dozenth round,” Marcin quipped.

            While his wounds healed, Mercinon beseeched the heroes, “Please, no more demonstrations! I think we’ve proved that you can’t kill me again!”

            Stocastin acknowledged, “His assessment appears to be correct. We don’t have any recourse to neutralize him either, so we’ll have to physically inhibit him from carrying out his attacks.”

            “Don’t bother!” Marcin recommended. “He doesn’t do much work now, so nothing would change! Well, he would be more helpless than normal, so I guess it would be more annoying for me… Unless you tied me up too… Please don’t! I’d rather go back to Tartarus than listen to him blabber on for an eternity!” Mercinon glared at him.

            “We weren’t gonna leave you here forever,” Narcius let him know. “Hades wants us to bring you back to the Underworld. Well, he didn’t mention you, but we assume he wants all of the dead to return. But how are we supposed to do that? I always thougth that we’d just have to kill you again to send you back, but apparently that won’t work!”

            Exelda mulled the matter over for a moment. “Hmm… There must be some kind of entryway to the Underworld…”

            Kefalia distressed, “Don’t tell me we have to find more feathers to open it up!” Stocastin, Akintos, and Narcius shared her sentiments at this horrifying prospect.

            “There’s an entrance in the back of the cave,” Dason notified them. “Also, can you get me out of this thing?” Exelda used her super strength to break the cage, and Dason was able to hop out. “Ah! I’m free!” Right then, a magical force swooped Dason and the heroes up and bound them together with a green rope made of electricity. “Dang it! So close!”

            “Aw, man! Seriously? We just got out of a bind like this!” Akintos whined.

            Mercinon could see Thanamenti standing beside her cauldron, so he breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh good! You’re awake! Can you please dispose of these wretches? They annoy me!”

            Thanamenti regrettably filled him in, “I can’t harm them! If I could kill them, don’t you think I would have done away with that bird ages ago?”

            “Uh, I’m not a bird anymore!” Dason mentioned.

            “Why not?” Mercinon inquired.

            Stocastin replied, “Because we were able to break that spell!”

            Mercinon clarified, “No, I meant why can’t she kill you? Thanamenti, what do you mean you can’t kill them? They’re right there! They can’t use their powers, they’re so vulnerable! It’ll be so easy! What’s the problem?”

            “If I use my powers to kill, the sympathies will take my powers away,” Thanamenti revealed. “Oh sure, I can send monsters their way, and if the monsters happened to annihilate them, then so be it, but if I could directly kill them, I would have done away with the royal family years ago and you’d be down in Tartarus doing manual labor to earn your fare on the River Styx!”

            “Ew! Don’t remind me of that horrid subject!” Mercinon shuddered. “Okay, I gotta wipe that from my memory! It’s ruining our big win! Just send out a monster or whatever you gotta do to rid ourselves from these pests! Meanwhile, I need to practice my victory march!” He got back on his stilts and resumed traversing around in them.

            Exelda boldly shouted out, “You haven’t won yet, you undead prick! We may not be able to attack you, but as we did with your last monstrous attempt, we can still outsmart you!”

            Kefalia, who had been gazing at the open book in front of her, brought up, “Uh, I was trying to research baby names and I accidentally summoned a demon!” A small, red sprite hovered above them with a malicious expression on its face.

            “Ooh, can the demon murder them?” Mercinon pondered from atop of his stilts.

            “No! Go away, you!” Thanamenti used her staff to cast the demon away, and then she leered, “So, I’m supposed to be intimidated by your wit, huh? Forgive me for not shaking in my boots!”

            Narcius retorted, “No, we won’t forgive that!”

            Thanamenti sneered at them, but before she could say anything else, Dason jumped in, “You can put up a brave front all you want, but I know deep down inside, you’re terrified right now! Don’t deny it! If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have fainted when you saw that they got the last feather!”

            “Hold on, you know that she fainted and you didn’t bother to tell us?” Mercinon cried out incredulously.

            “Why would I do that? You’re trying to destroy my polis!” Dason rebutted.

            Marcin queried, “That’s why you passed out? I thought it was the booze again!”

            Thanamenti’s demeanor became very disconcerted, but when she heard a thump come from Echinda’s chambers, she perked right back up. “It doesn’t matter! You’re about to get what’s coming to you!”

            “Oh, is it a makeover? I’ve been dying to go to a salon…” Mercinon espied Thanamenti’s irritated face, and he realized his blunder. “Oh, you were talking to them!”

            “Say goodbye, super zeroes!” Thanamenti cackled. Exelda tried to think fast as they heard footsteps coming towards them…

The Unsuper Heroes II, Chapter 18

“And this was his bedroom,” the minotaur informed Exelda, Akintos, Stocastin, Narcius, and Kefalia as he led them into a space with an enormous bed that had an ornate wooden frame and a wardrobe that matched the other piece of furniture in the room. It was adorned with obviously self-created artwork showcasing Mercinon in an exalted fashion. “I didn’t touch this one much since I found it kinda creepy, but I thought about doing something sometime soon ‘cause I can’t sleep just knowing it’s here!”

            “Wow, he makes Narcius look humble!” Akintos remarked.

            Narcius queried, “Thanks, I guess! Wait, is that a compliment or not?”

            Exelda responded, “I wouldn’t worry abut that right now! There’s some paper and a couple of wooden frames, so let’s see if the feather is somewhere in here!”

            The heroes reluctantly began searching for the feather. Stocastin peeked behind a drawing of Mercinon as king, and when he noticed a small bust of Mercinon seemingly staring at him, he shivered and turned it around so its eyes couldn’t point in his direction. Exelda opened up the wardrobe and found that it had gotten packed so tightly that it came flooding out as soon as the door became ajar, burying her in a slew of elaborate togas and accessories! As she pulled a gilded laurel crown off of her head, she wondered, “Why did he need so many different outfits? He almost never went anywhere outside of his so-called palace from what Impusa said.”

            Akintos reached across the bed to check under the pillow farthest from him, and as his belly brushed across the surface, he noted, “Ooh! He may not have a good taste in decorations, but he sure picked out a good place to sleep!” He laid down on the bed and let out a comfortable sigh.

            “I see something!” Kefalia announced before diving under the bed and retrieving a small crate.

            “Is it a feather or artwork that he didn’t have room for?” Exelda probed.

            Kefalia made a disgusted face and quickly shoved the crate back under the bed. “Neither! It’s… Well… Akintos, if I were you, I wouldn’t’ lay on there anymore!” Akintos’ eyes grew wide, and he hastily slid off of the bed.

            Stocastin suggested, “I think we’ve gleaned all we’re going to get from this area. I propose that we examine the Dytikadasi forest that surrounds the palace instead. We found no trace of it in any of the wooden objects that we could find in here, and anything we missed sounds potentially psychologically harmful to have burned into our memories.”

            Kefalia, Akintos, and Narcius concurred with that statement, but after Exelda freed herself from the garments that buried her, she disputed, “Listen, I’m sure there’s some things in here that even the sympathies wouldn’t’ touch, but I’m almost positive that they would have put a feather somewhere around here! This whole thing happened ‘cause of Mercinon! Melampia’s sister has a connection to him, and she’s the one who cast the spell, so it makes absolute sense for a feather to come here! There has to be something we overlooked!”

            “How is that possible? We’ve already went over every room in this place!” Narcius differed. “So, unless there’s a secret chamber hidden from our sight…”

            “Did you ever try investigating the building for anything like that?” Exelda asked the minotaur. “Any trap doors or concealed staircases or things like that?”

            The minotaur answered her, “Of course I checked! I don’t got much else to do as an unemployed monster, so I’ve gone through every inch of this structure! There’s no surprises unless you count the junk he stashed under the bed!”

            Kefalia put in, “It’s not surprising, just gross!”

            “Are you sure there isn’t anything else connected with the palace that you may not have shown us?” Exelda pressed the minotaur.

            “I showed you everything inside of here,” the minotaur insisted.

            Exelda grilled him, “What about outside of the palace? Did he have, like, a garden of more art made for the outdoors?”

            Akintos crossed his fingers and prayed, “For the love of Lytta, please don’t let that horror exist!”

            “No, there’s nothing like that,” the minotaur assured them. The heroes all exhaled in relief, and then the minotaur went on, “The only thing outside of the palace is a couple of watchtowers facing the Synorolofus Mountains. I haven’t been up there since the entrance is too small, I couldn’t squeeze my horns in there, but from what I could see, there wasn’t anything up there except bugs!”

            “Bugs? Oh, were skipping those things then!” Narcius declared while shaking from that frightening thought.

            Exelda glanced out of the window, and between two mountainous hills, she saw two tall towers made of logs. “The towers are made of wood! That has to be it! Let’s go!”

            Narcius protested, “Hey, do I make you face things that you’re afraid of? Like what if I made you… I don’t know! You’re not really afraid of anything, are you?” Exelda shook her head in exasperation before grabbing him by the wrist and dragging him out of the room.

            The wind howled against them as they stared at the left tower, which gave them no clue to what may have existed in the interior except for a small platform at the very top that faced the craggy peaks behind the palace. “This wood is quite dilapidated! I would hazard a guess that these spires have been vacant for an extraordinary amount of time!” Stocastin observed.

            “Do we really have to go into these hideous eyesores?” Narcius eyeballed it judgmentally.

            “Kefalia, can you fly to the top and see if you see anything up there?” Exelda requested.

            Once she made a couple of fruitless attempts, Kefalia reported, “I can’t! The wind here is too strong!”

            Exelda concluded, “Well then, we don’t have a choice! We have to go inside!”

            “Count me out!” Narcius refused. “Who knows what’s lurking in there!”

            “That’s the entire reason we need to go in! To see what’s lurking in them!” Exelda shot back. Narcius’s knees quivered, so she told him, “Fine! You can stand watch by yourself! Stocastin and Akintos, you take that one while Kefalia and I go in here.”

            Akintos and Stocastin headed to the other side while Exelda and Kefalia ducked inside the small entrance of the one closest to them. Narcius reassured himself, “Yup! I’m much safer out here! All alone…”

            The two sets of heroes had gotten halfway up their respective towers when they heard Narcius’ high-pitched scream, so they came rushing out. Their adrenaline surged as they feared the worst, but when they came out, they saw Narcius unblemished. He let them know, “I almost dropped my mirror!”

            Akintos griped, “Oh great! We gotta climb this thing twice now all ‘cause you almost dropped a stupid mirror!”

            “It’s not stupid!” Narcius refuted. “I need this! And if it breaks, I won’t get to get another one ‘til we get back to town, and who knows when that’ll be!” He gazed at his reflection admirably and then added, “It calms my nerves!”

            “Whatever! Just don’t scream again unless it’s an actual emergency!” Exelda warned him.

            Narcius complied, “Fine!” He went back to savoring his image, and the others rolled their eyes and returned to their towers.

            Kefalia and Exelda nearly reached the top when Exelda squinted her eyes to see something above them. “Is that a feather?”

            “Maybe! Nothing else in here is shiny!” Kefalia dusted off a cobweb. All of a sudden, they heard Narcius scream again. Exelda cringed, and Kefalia pondered, “Should we go check on him? He did agree not to do that unless it’s serious!”

            “It better be serious or I swear to Zeus, I’ll… punish him somehow!” Exelda exclaimed as they hurried out.

            When they came out, they expected to see Narcius fretting over something innocuous, but instead, they got a jolt of dread to see him surrounded by a cloud of blue electricity! The other four had barely begun to process this when they felt a force propel them into Narcius’ enclosure! “What’s happening?” Stocastin wondered. Narcius was clearly too scared to speak, but he pointed towards the sky. They saw half a dozen women in scantily clad clothing flying towards them with wings like embellished butterflies, and while they had ravishing appearances, their expressions beamed out pure spite! Stocastin regarded Narcius, “That doesn’t tell me much!”

            The one in red pronounced, “We got them all! Not that I’m at all surprised! Our talent far outweighs theirs, but it is nice to be able to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done!”

            The one in orange shared her sentiment, “Yes, indeed! I had expected them to put up a fight, but I’m glad we didn’t’ have to resort to that! I’d rather not have to repair any imperfections that a battle may create!”

            “What are you gonna do to us? Pleasure us to death?” Akintos grinned with a gleam of hope in his eyes.

            “I already asked that,” Narcius relayed to him. “Trust me, the answer’s a no!”

            The one in yellow scoffed, “As if our noble blood would ever compel us to do such a vile act!”

            Kefalia opined, “Wow, they sound like you, Narcius!”

            “How shall we do this, ladies? Our powers are so mighty that the possibilities are endless!” the one in green posed to her peers.

            “Ooh, look! A parting gift!” the one in blue cried out in delight.

            As they quarreled over who got to use Narcius’ mirror, Exelda asserted, “They do sound like you, Narcius!”

            Narcius bewailed, “Okay, okay! I get it! I’m arrogant! Is that really necessary to prove right before we’re all killed?”

            “No, I only meant that if they’re like you, we can decipher their weaknesses! So, how would we destroy you?” Exelda inquired.

            “Hey, put down my mirror before you ugly hags break it!” Narcius shouted to them.

            The women arched their heads up in total bewilderment, and the one in purple sneered, “He’s lying! He was just trying to preposition us because our beauty bewitched him!”

            Narcius contended that, “I thought I was at death’s door, I would have done it with anyone, even you revolting cows!”

            “I don’t think cows are revolting!” Kefalia objected. Exelda elbowed her, so she amended her blunder, “You guys wish you were as attractive as cows!”

            “You’re telling us you don’t find this at all attractive?” The one in red showed of her body, and the heroes all made gagging noises.

            The one in orange shrieked, “How dare you!”

            The one in yellow sniffled a little. “It can’t be true!”

            “It is!” Stocastin confirmed. “And you smell bad too!”

            “What?” the one in green roared. She tried to sniff herself, but tears started to flow and her nostrils got blocked. “You’re so mean!”

            All six started crying, and shortly afterwards, they started fading! “Oh no! Our gorgeous bodies!” the one in blue hollered.

            The one in purple tried to hex them, but her hand disappeared, so she yelled, “You’ll pay for this!”

            Akintos retorted, “No, I don’t think so! I think we won!”

            As the winged women’s heads vanished, they gave out one last shriek before they popped out of sight! The electric cloud that bound them dissolved, and the force that pulled them in pushed them out, sending them sailing in all different directions! Exelda got slammed into the tower that she had explored, and after she recovered, she asked everyone else, ‘Are you guys okay?”

            “No!” Narcius answered tormentedly. “They took my mirror with them! Those bitches!” He started sobbing but instantly stopped when he spotted something on the ground. “No, wait, there it is!”

            “Isn’t it funny how this is the second monster killed by tears?” Kefalia conversed.

            Stocastin speculated, “The cipactli suffered from an anaphylactic shock due to the sodium and other substances in your tear water whereas the hubris from these female creatures-.”

            Exelda interrupted him, “Hey! That was a feather I saw!” They espied the golden feather, which now dangled off of the edge of the platform at the top! She used her super strength to make the tower vibrate in an effort to knock it down, but she accidentally made the whole thing fall apart! “Oops!”

            Akintos groaned, “Why didn’t you do that from the beginning? I would much rather have searched through the rubble than do all that climbing!”

            “I got it!” Exelda held it up in the air triumphantly.

            “Yay! We have all the feathers!” Kefalia jumped and clapped in joy. ‘Now what?”

            Exelda theorized, “I think we gotta put them all together.”

            They each pulled out the feather that they retrieved and brought it to her. Exelda stacked the ends together like a fan, and with mounting anticipation, they waited for something to occur. For a moment, they thought nothing happened. Suddenly, Akintos let out a gasp…