The Master always likes his meals hot- PIPING HOT! He’ll tell Vaan Strudel every night, night after night. He’ll tell Vaan Strudel, “Vaan Strudel! Give me my meals PIPING HOT!” Vaan Strudel likes to listen to the master. Vaan Strudel likes to serve the dark master of torment! Vaan Strudel is a good servant to the Master. Vaan Strudel sees the teensy American girl with her hair the color of blood, Vaan Strudel can sense her dislike of Vaan Strudel – Vaan Strudel doesn’t like her either. So, Vaan Strudel is sneaking in back now, to let in the Master of Vaan Strudels’ soul, Vaan Strudel helps in the master. Vaan Strudel always says to the master “Master, Vaan Strudel thinks none look finer than you! With your gold ringed eyes, and your billowing black tail, and your four paws of perfection!” The master always says to Vaan Strudel, “I can kill you, I can kill you.” Vaan Strudel believes the master, Vaan Strudel believes that Master wouldn’t even need to use his two sharp and pointy teeth. Not the Master. The Master could kill Vaan Strudel with his little paw if Master chose it to be so. Vaan Strudel will help the Master get blood tonight, so Van Strudel will, so Vaan Strudel will. In walks the master from the blackness, always with the “I can kill you, I can kill you.” Vaan Strudel helps the master survey the store, and Vaan Strudel can hear the winds picking up outside. “Master, the storm will be here quickly. The power will die as soon as the storm comes. Do not worry, Master. Vaan Strudel will see to it.”
“I can kill you. I can kill you.” Says the raccoon.
Vaan Strudel waits with the master.
I step outside and look at the night sky, it is as clear as crystal.I scoff. This is supposed to be tornado weather? I walk back inside the store, contemplating a quiz in a magazine I had found under one of the registers. When I flirt, am I naturally witty, or painfully comedic? Indeed. As if any quiz could ever define me. I am an enigma, and this particular enigma was getting bored. So good for me it was then, that I was getting to lock up the store early – we had to clean the floors tonight. So I ring out the last customer, and escort him to the door.
“Good night to you too sir, thanks for shopping at The Castle.” I say, holding the door for the liquor endowed man heading towards his beamer.
With a din akin to atom bombs dropping, a loud, vulgar yellow van careens into the parking lot. Music, I suppose you could call it such, fills the night with awful intrusion.
“Cue the god forsaken Russian cleaning crew.” I considered not letting them in, I knew it would make their mustaches twitch–that was just the way with Russian cleaning crews, their mustaches always twitched when they were flustered.
“Yenna!” The tiny man with caterpillar eyebrows yells to me. “So good seeing you!”
I put on my best I’m getting paid eight dollars an hour for this bull smile.
“Hello, Viktor.” The name is still Jenna.
His personal sidekick, Karlof–you know, pronounced Car-Lawv. See? I pay attention to how names sound. Anyway, Karlof steps out of the van, dragging his buffer machine. He hails me like I’m a taxi cab driver.
“Evening, Karlof.” I watch the other two Russians exit the van with their cleaning equipment, and remember not to breathe as they pass me. “I’ll be around front if you guys need me.” I say, watching as a new face in the Russian cleaning crew sets up a mop bucket.
“Vaan Strudel!” Viktor starts yelling at the Russian who was setting up the mop bucket, I let them work out their differences. Viktor was quick to start hitting on me, he usually is.
“Yenna, tell me. How is your mama and papa?”
I give my usual forced smile, he was already laughing. He never seemed to tire of this joke. “I don’t know, I’ll tell you when I find out who they are.”
“Haha, you funny joker! I tell you, I adopt you as my daughter anytime.” Something in his smile made me wish he would have a heart attack.
I was very glad when our night manager came out at that exact moment. Not only was he six feet of pure testosterone (need I say he towered over Viktor?), he also had a backside which made me writhe. ‘C’mon baby light my fire, is it weird that I always think of that song when I see him? Whenever I think of Brody, that’s his song.
Brody talks to Viktor, he’s terse, and he outright ignored my ‘hello’ as he went back to work. Boy still makes me want to dance. Oh well, I still have eight hours of shift left to try and woo him.
Two hours have passed up front, here I sit on my conveyor belt, wondering why in the blue blazes of hell these guys just can’t ring out their own crap. “You don’t need a cashier on a night like tonight.” I get up, not wanting to be here any longer. I walk through the aisles, browsing really, nothing more. I could swear, two eyes just gazed out at me from behind the kosher dills. No. I tell myself it was just my imagination. “Jenna, it’s not even 4 AM, it’s far too early to be suffering from hallucinations.” I scolded myself again, wishing that I had brought my iPod.
Screep! Screep! Screep!
The usual sounds of the Russians scraping up some gunk off the floors. I peek around an end cap, and see a Russian in a long black cleaning mask, I don’t remember his name–mostly due to the fact that he looks like he could be Luke Skywalker’s dad. He waves to me all the same, all these guys want a piece of me. They can’t even speak my name correctly, but I dunno. They want something, but I’m not sure I can give them anything, not when I’m dreaming of him. I dunno. Crazy mustaches.
Just then, a huge cacophony split the night’s muzak, as a huge clang is heard from the roof. The wind must really be picking up, the storm is howling like my grandmother’s teacup Chihuahua. Speaking of devilish beasts, there are those two eyes again, at the end of the aisle. What the hell are they?
I don’t get to find out, because at that moment everything goes black–and a scream is heard from the back of the store. Seconds later, all the Russian voices are filling the store with their strange song…prayer…God knows what hymns.
“VIKTOR! Shut UP!” I scream, “The rest of you too!”
The emergency generators kick in and The Castle is full of light once again.
The Russians are at my side at once, my knights in skanky armor. Well, three of them are at my side anyway. “We are sorrying, Yenna.” Viktor states. “But it says in Old Country, when lights go out during tornado weather, we must give praise to our ancestors! It must be so!”
“Yeah, I can only see one problem with that though, Viktor old chum. We’re in Kentucky. Do you know how far Old Country is from here?”
“Unbeliever! Do not question our belief! Our religion is JUST!”
“Sure, sure. Do whatever you want, just…I’m going to check in the back.”
“Everything alright here gentlemen?” Brody inquires, walking up and ignoring me.
“Yes, everything is being fine, Brody! We are cleaning like mouses before winter!” Karlof says enthusiastically.
“I was going to check out what that scream was in the back, actually – Brody. Maybe someone fell because of the blackout. If you want, you could come with me?” I ask, hoping my cute and innocent act will convince him I’m some naïve girl looking for some action behind the cereal backstock skids.
He seems to ponder me for a moment, as if he just realized I was there. “Okay, let’s go.” He says to me coldly, ignoring the babbling Russians as they begin to mop the perimeter. “This way, Henna.”
My heart melts, he almost called me by my right name. “It’s Jenna.” I say, my voice rising angelically.
It is normally a very quick walk to the backroom, I kept stealing looks at Brody as I kept up with him. The walk ended too soon–as I knew it must–and of course, there was the body. Oh shit! The body! I gape at a Castle worker I didn’t know the name of, does that make me horrible? The guy is sprawled on the floor, in a pool of crimson. The ladder rests nearby on its side, surely he must have fallen. “God, I thought everyone but us was out.”
“He’s got bite marks on his neck.” Brody says upon inspection.
“What?” I ask.
“Bite marks. On. His. Neck.” Brody rips off the top two buttons of his grey shirt, and pulls out a small crucifix. “We must be dealing with a vampire!” He says with gusto.
“Um…no.” I look closer at the guy’s body, fighting back the bile that’s rising to my throat. “That’s actually just a birthmark I think.” I lightly touch the brown spots on the dude’s neck. “Yep, just two big dots close to each other. Sorry, no Brody the Vampire Slayer for us.” I say sarcastically.
Brody storms off, him and his tight end. Way to blow it, I could see myself revisiting this moment in the near future. As I’m standing there brooding, that new Russian comes by wheeling a mop bucket.
“Vaan Strudel is needing by, is cleaning up the messes.” I notice that he completely ignores the huge mess of blood and body. Only then do I realize, oh shit–I should probably call the cops. Seems like a normal thing to do. I’m not totally panicked, it seems like he just fell off the ladder. Anyway, normal. A normal person calls an ambulance or the cops during an accident. They don’t run off. Well, much more normal than complaining about messes while bypassing a body, anyway.
I pick up the phone, sure that someone should be alerted to this. “You won’t get answer, Vaan Strudel knows.” Vaan Strudel says to me, almost sycophantically. “Is dead. Phone is dead. Like emergency exit doors. Like man on floor. Maybe your cellular phone, enh?” Just as he predicted, the phone was dead. Likely knocked out by the storm, (or that thing that got the grocery boy–shut up! Show sensitivity!)
“Yeah, well it so happens I don’t have my cell phone tonight, it’s being serviced.”
“Hah! Hah! Ha! HA! Then maybe Master can service you.” Vaan Strudel says, in a high cackling voice. His head flies back and he waves his mop crazily in the air, his mustache twitching all the while.
So, I make a hasty getaway, those crazy Russians are always on about something. Maybe the payphone outside will work.
Splish! Splosh! Splash!
The Russians are mopping, unaware of the body in back. I watch my back as I head towards the front of the store. That Vaan guy really freaked me out a little. Bodies were one thing, they couldn’t hurt you… but weirdo’s like Vaan? Heck, they could do a girl a lotta damage. As I reach the front door I see one of the Russians hunched over–the Vader mask surely–I remember my foster dad hunched over like that when he was passing kidney stones. He looked to be in about the same amount of pain.
“Can you get up please? I have to make a phone call. Some guys’ dead in the …”
The Russian looked up at me, his hands clenched around his neck, his bleeding neck.
“Bu…bu…behind you!” he falls to the floor completely, and I heeded his final warning, just in time to see Vaan Strudel with his mop bucket full of blood. He must have found a mess to clean up. It sloshes out the sides and onto the floor.
“Clean store is happy store! Master always wants his meals PIPING HOT! Haha! Vaan Strudel is happy to help!”
It was at this moment that I decide to get on the intercom. I jump to the checkout stand and pick up the phone. “BRODY!” I yell. “This Russian weirdo is freaking me out! Help! Help me!”
The Russians aside from Vaan and Newly dead corpsy guy all start chanting. “It being fine rush to clean like school bus! In the night that is so fine!” Viktor’s and Karlof’s voices ring throughout the store, ignorant of the terror I was feeling. Would they ever cease their maniacal praises?
Vaan had refocused on me, now that he had collected the excess blood that had spilled from his coworker. Full bucket is happy bucket, I think morbidly.
“Vaan Strudel! Master says, Vaan Strudel! Get me a bride! A young bride! A fine catch! Miss Yenna, Vaan Strudel only wants to help the Master! You must marry him!” He swings his bloody mop my way, and I run like hell was after me.
I didn’t mean to bump into his chest, but the next thing I knew, Brody’s strong arms are wrapping around me. It’s like magic, his aroma fills my nostrils and served as a stimulant, I felt none could harm me now. Or at the very least, I felt I could die happy.
“You!” He cries, pointing at Vaan Strudel. “You have brought this into my store, the blood of the innocent cries out to me! I will have you! To me, you deformed hellion!” Brody reaches in his shirt and pulls out his crucifix again, and withdraws a box cutter from his pocket.
The duel that was to commence would surely be remembered by all who witnessed it, I however, do not. I faint.
I’m strapped to a fruit cart, hovering above me is the most depraved looking raccoon I had ever seen! Suddenly, the shining eyes from the dill pickles make sense! He speaks to me like a lover, whispering into my ear, his whiskers tickling my face.
“I can marry you. I can marry you.” It’s all he ever says.
The dream shifts.
I’m drowning, there is water all around me! All I can see is red. The water is red, and the only life preservers are bound in human flesh! Human flesh with two little marks side by side…bleeding birthmarks! The horror I feel echo through the next string of horrible minutes.
It shifts again.
I’m staring at Brody, who is wearing a paper bag over his torso, he wields a green and rather large (not to mention oddly shaped) box cutter in one hand. He is shielding himself with a gallon of milk. He’s fighting with Vaan Strudel, or rather, the ghostly form of Vaan Strudel. They exchange blows, and only when Vaan is dispelled does Brody mount me.
Which is, of course, when I wake up. Imagine my surprise when I see that Brody really has mounted me, I feel water pouring water onto my brow.
“Brody, oh what happened? I remember you shouting at Vaan Strudel, but where is your milk shield? Your strangely phallic box cutter?” I ask, my eyes growing wide as I spy what he is using to revive me. A towel that is greasy black.
“You clean with that thing! Ugh!” I groan.
“Shh. You talk too much.” He says.
What a pleasant miracle! He actually said something personal about me! Oh wonders never cease!
“What is happening?” I ask.
“I will tell you. An evil Raccoon vampire and his man servant have overtaken the store. I fear that Viktor and Karlof are dead by the beast now. Their babbling has ceased. I am sure that they were innocent in the ordeal. I caught sight of the beast earlier, as he was salivating over their jugulars. I hope my language is not too coarse for your naïve and sensitive ears.”
“Not at all! I would have you speak until they were bleeding!” I only then thought of my words.
“No time for that now, come, we must find the monster.” He pulls me up in a sweeping arch and I am at his side at once.
“Is that Vaan guy dead?” my lip trembles, wondering what steps my hero took to save our lives.
“He’s locked in the meat department, under lock and key obviously. I thought he needed to get the chip off his shoulder, so I introduced him to our meat chipper.
I feel myself grow red. “Goodness save us.”
“Goodness took the night off.” He says icily as we walk the store, creeping around corners. I could feel the heat rolling off him, so why was my body so cold? Was it the fear?
“How will we fight him?” I look longingly into his brown eyes.
He pulls a box cutter from his shirt pocket. “I trust you know how to use one of these?”
“Do I ever! I can work one of these until…”
“Splendid! Then take this ruler and whittle me a stake! There is no time to lose!” He says, pulling a ruler from his pocket.
So I took his offered ruler and begin to whittle like my life depended on it. And as I pass the drained bodies of Karlof and Viktor (Yenna! Yenna! – Viktor still called to me from the grave. I‘ll adopt you, then marry you, we have a great number of children!) I don’t feel bad about the kick I give to Viktor.
I hold out the stake to Brody as I finished. “How does it look?” I asked, desperate for his praise.
“Not nearly as good as I do, but it’s a start.” He says, putting a mirror into his pocket.
I feel the heat flowing back into my body, the work he had me do was helping. Maybe it was shock?
“Do you have everything in those pockets?” I ask.
“Haha, not your hand. But now is hardly the time! Behold! The beast!” He points to the Raccoon, a ghastly creature of enormous size.
The raccoon, yes–the terror of my dream to be sure, a raccoon – standing there on its hind legs.
“Declare yourself, heathen beast!” Brody yells.
“I am Borris Raccuul, of Transylwanya. I see you have dispatched my manservant.” His speech was very good, considering he was foreign, and you know–a raccoon?
“I did. My, but you are a foul little thing.” Brody says threateningly.
“Transylwanya?” I giggle, despite my fear which rose like bile to my throat. “Don’t you mean Transylvania?”
“Tsk, tsk, you Americans know no manners.” Borris says plainly.
“You speak of manners, yet you sold your soul to the devil! And for what? The powers of the immortals?!” Brody makes sure his box cutter blade was extended all the way. He caresses the handle in ways he would surely never caress me.
“Actually, Satan has a new leasing option. But it’s all the same. I inherited the powers of the Immortal Ones. Now, I will have your blood! For I will be sated!” Borris growls.
“I am for you!” Brody calls, as he rushes forward to engage in battle with the dreadful raccoon.
The raccoon was inches away from Brody at once, as they fight and dance about the store, each looking for an opening. Borris latches onto Brody’s hand, yet Brody is able to throw him off.
“Cry off your quest for my blood, and I may let you live!” Brody screamed.
“Never! Now feel my rage!” The raccoon was at Brody’s heels, tearing savagely through his denim jeans. Brody kicks hard, and I couldn’t help but laugh–it looked like a deranged folk dance.
Borris rebounds off a shelf, and he quickly recovers from Brody’s kick. He upsets a cereal box in frustration. “You are a strong human! How delicious your blood must be! But I bet your friend’s will taste all the sweeter!” He squeaks horribly and rushes towards me.
“Brody! “ I scream in fright, as I run to the shelves with nowhere to go but up.
Brody slashes at the raccoon again with the box cutter, and with the speed of an angel, he draws down the sharpened ruler.
“I can kill you. I can kill you.” The raccoon wheezes, his yellowed fangs bared.
“BRODY!” I cried to my hero, pleading for him to save me.
Brody plants the ruler into the back of the demonic creature, ending its centuries’ long plague upon mankind.
“I can kill you…..I can kill you…”
I am quite sure those are Borris’ last words.
Brody forces us a way out of the store, and just in time too. For the store is smitten by God, in a mighty bolt of lightning. The entire store catches on fire, and the smoke rises and twists high into the night. I find comfort in Brody’s embrace, and as the winds continued to howl, we turn our backs on the Castle, knowing we could never go back.