Cheryl and Sophie strolled along the gutter under the street lights. They were both silent and looking at their feet. The paths led through the winding swagger of someone who had been communing with the spirits; not a bumblebee’s path, but enough for a stranger to know that’s not how they normally walked.
“We probably shouldn’t be just walking around out in the open like this. Drunk,” Sophie said.
“Slay them all,” Cheryl threw back her head and shouted, “Let them come.”
“Fine for you, your nemesis is a fat, middle-aged man. That one that looks like Ray is nasty business.”
“You have to stop being such a softie. I dig that you like the Robin Hood vibe but don’t be more empathetic than the guy who’s trying to kill you. You turned an alien wannabe emperor of the galaxy into a vegetable, you can do ruthless.”
“There was a lot more at stake then than just my life. It was a lot of other people too.”
“Flip it around. If you die because you hesitated at your chance to pull the trigger when you have the gun between your would be killers eyes, then what happens to the people you could have helped had you been alive.”
“It does seem like a dilemma when you look at it like that.”
“That why I avoid all that shit.”
A woman’s voice could be heard from the block over, screaming for help. They jogged to the corner and kept close to the wall. Cheryl inched to the corner.
“Give me your mirror,” she whispered.
Sophie pulled her silver mirror from her bag and handed it to Cheryl. She poked it around the corner and saw a man in a hoodie holding up a woman in a pantsuit and heels at an ATM.
“It’s just a mugger,” Cheryl said, “Moving on.”
“We can’t leave,” Sophie grabbed her by the sleeve and pulled her back.
“Bullshit I can’t. You care, you do it. You can one hand that asshole.”
“You’d just walk home while I did it myself?”
“Are you going to guilt me about this. Fine. If it will shut you up.”
“You’re a great sister. You know that, sister of mine?”
Cheryl grabbed Sophie, shoved her out from behind the wall, and followed behind her.
“But, you’re going to set me up for the good lines,” Cheryl whispered.
Sophie pulled her compacted bow out of her bag and flicked her wrist. The bow unfolded and she drew it back as she approached the mugger, a silver arrow of light formed as her hand pulled back to rest at her cheek. As she and Cheryl drew nearer, the woman in the pantsuit, looked over the mugger’s shoulder. Her face of fear gave way to exhaustion.
“Oh, Christ,” she sighed.
“What?” the mugger’s could be seen furrowing in the eye holes of his wool mask.
“You have a chick pointing a compound bow that shoots concentrated light on the back of your head and can manifest your worst nightmares, and a human taser standing behind you. I’d be cool if you just called it a night and went the fuck home. My sister, however, thinks she lives in a comic book and is probably dying to try out some new move she practiced all night in the mirror on her bedroom door.”
“I will shoot this bitch if you don’t back off.”
“What are the odds I’m surviving this?” the woman asked.
“You’re the victim. You don’t get any lines you just cry and give us weepy hugs after we save you.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Sophie said, “My sister is insulting me by way of insulting you.”
“I can string like six or seven people together like that. It’s my superpower.”
“Alright, Cher, I get it, you don’t want to help me save this lady. Go home, I can do it myself.”
“I told you that.”
“God forbid, I’d want to spend some quality time with my sister.”
“You see what it’s like?” Sophie said in the mugger’s and victim’s general direction.
The woman and mugger looked at one another askance.
“Which one?” the lady said.
“Both of you, either one, somebody tells me I’m not crazy.”
“She wants you to be her validating OR gate,” Cheryl said to the pair.
“What the fuck is happening?” the mugger said turning around and finding the piercing, silver arrow trained between his eyes.
The woman grabbed her opportunity and fled. Sophie lowered the bow and raised a hand in front of mugger’s face. As he raised his gun to Sophie’s belly, he was frozen by the yapping of a golden retriever puppy bounding at his feet. He looked at the dog and his eyes welled. His gun arm wilted.
“Mitzy?” he stammered.
Cheryl rolled her eyes from the puppy to Sophie.
“I get super empathetic when I’m buzzed,” Sophie replied.
“Don’t be more empathetic than the guy who’s trying to kill you,” Cheryl said loud and firm.
“Is that your version of the heroic pep talk?”
“I know what this is. This is ‘we’re on Cheryl’s being seduced by the Darkside watch.’ I thought we left that at the bar. But, I see this has gotten to the point where no matter what I say, it’ll make you fret more. Back to that old feedback loop.”
“It’s hard. You look like Sally Kellerman from that Star Trek episode that always freaked me out as a kid.”
“Listen, I never made that assumption that we were some kind heroes. The media and the public made us that. The heroes what saved billionaire, philanthropist Simon Vyx’s mechanical ass. That was pretty infuriating. And then when we didn’t live up to the image they created, all the ‘More Villain Than Hero?’ think pieces started. I had a goal,” Cheryl said, “I wasn’t putting much thought into which end of the hero-villain spectrum I was on.”
“I wouldn’t mind being more toward the hero end.”
“Why? So you can be a target whenever the need to sacrifice one of their idols. It’s good we let them down early. Get them used to it. Then they’ll look elsewhere when they get feisty for another public takedown.”
“I just think...that maybe...it would hurt you to do something altruistic once and a while.”
“I’ll leave the Robin Hooding to you idiots. I’m not going out at night and smacking the shit out of muggers.”
“We don’t smack them up...anymore. Reputation does most of the work at this point. They’re mostly afraid that something is going to explode.”
“A feature not a bug.”
“Or that they might have gotten between us and an alien army.”
“You can’t buy PR like that.”
“You know, your way can be applied to the general welfare of your fellow citizens.”
“Okay, show me it in action sometime.”
Sophie gestured at the man rolling in the grass with his puppy.
“You said, ‘Don’t be more empathetic than the guy who’s trying to kill you,’ so I fixed the problem. He’s feeling way more empathetic than me right now.”
“Whatever, it worked.”
A hail of gunfire rang out. Sophie and Cheryl crouched down. Two cars raced away from each other. When the reached a distance of about three blocks, they performed a drifting handbrake, semi-circle and faced each other down, revving their engines. As if by some psychic bond the two cars darted toward each other, each in their proper lane. The drivers hung out of the windows holding pistols, like jousters. As they passed the guns fired and one car veered off and plowed into the sidewalk. The other car raced off to sit for the next hour and a half in a Target parking lot.
Cheryl shouted at the victorious driver as he sped past.
“What the heck was that?” Sophie asked.
“Uber turf war.”
“Another one? What’s the turnover rate?”
“In Philly,” Cheryl was somber and hushed, “ I hear tell it’s three weeks for the living, a month or two for the dead.”
Hunter and Ian sat slouched low on the couch. Hunter was banging away at a video gamer controller. Ian stared at the screen, face stone and expressionless as he fiddled the keys on his flute. Their eyes were heavy and red.
“Wait,” Ian said, “Aren’t you supposed to talk to that dude?”
“What? This guy?” Hunter asked.
“Yeah...oh, no, wait, that was the dude who just sent on the quest to get 80 rabbit pelts. No, fuck that dude.”
“I should upgrade my shit before I leave.”
“Definitely,” Ian gave a solemn nod, “Definitely. Where’d you get this shit? It’s trippy as hell.”
“Bart grows it.”
“Back at the jawn?”
“Yeah, in the attic because it’s always hot as Hades’ asshole up there. And more humid than Poseidon’s.”
“You gotta stop with the God of War, bro.”
A knock came at the door. It was slow and plodding. The knuckles used sounded bony. Ian and Hunter slouched right off the couch and under the coffee table.
“Are we going to have to battle the police?”
Hunter shrugged then he lit up, “Play something.”
“Something to daze whoever is at the door.”
“Right. I can do that. That something I have at my disposal, okay,” he cleared his throat and affected a sonorous baritone, “Okay, I call this one, Jazz Discovery in G Major Revelation.”
“Fine. Let’s hear it.”
“What about you? Aren’t I going to render you dazed as well?”
“How long was I able to hold out the last time. And Billy won all that money because he bet the under?”
“That’s enough time to find out who’s at the door.”
The knock came again. Hunter swirled his finger in the air. Ian started playing an angular melody full of bending notes. Hunter scrambled to his feet and leaped for the door. He peeped out the hole and waved Ian off. He opened the door to find a tall, thin man with a sickly pallor. His widow’s peaked, black hair was slicked back. Held one of his hands in the other with a ginger grip.
“What are you selling?” Hunter said to the gaunt man.
“I’m looking for a Ms. Sophia Fischer,” he replied.
“She’s not here.”
“Then perhaps you can help me. I am seeking the one called Van Helsing. I thought him dead yet my children tell me they’ve seen him in this city of all places.”
“What else do your children tell you?”
“They tell me Sophia Fischer has crossed paths with him on more than one occasion. “I hoping she could give me some information.”
“I know Van Helsing. Little pain in the ass.”
“Have Ms. Fischer contact me when you see her.”
“You got a name, Dracula?”
“Dracula. Duke Dracula. She’ll know how to find me.”
Duke turned as if on a rotating platform and glided down the steps. Hunter shut the door and turned to look at Ian. The exchanged blank stares.
“Duke Dracula?” Hunter pondered aloud.
“Maybe he got a promotion,” Ian said.
Hunter fumbled through his robe pockets and produced a cell phone. He juggled it up to his face.
“Okay, I’m sorry,” Sophie said to Cheryl, still standing on the same block the mugging took place, “It’s just…” her phone rang like a regular telephone, “Hang on...Hello?...Hey Hun...Dracula? Count Dracula?”
“You had best be putting this on speaker, bitch,” Cheryl said.
“Duke Dracula,” Hunter’s tinny voice clipped the little speaker, “He’s looking for Van Helsing. Looks the part and everything.”
“Finally, shit goes right. We can unload that asshole on this other asshole. One less problem. I figured these second wave shitheads would start balancing each other out eventually.”
“He wants Sophie to contact him. He said you’d know how.”
“How on Earth would I know how to contact Dracula?” Sophie said.
“Is there an undead radar spell of some sort?” Cheryl asked.
“I guess that could work, but I’d be getting pings off of half the rat and pigeon population in Philly.”
“What the fuck?” Cheryl and Hunter said in unison.
“It was something I was looking into before the whole mage hunter thing started. Slipped my mind.”
“Is this something we should be worried about?” Cheryl asked.
“I don’t know, I got sidetracked.”
“You didn’t even mention anything? I ride the subway with those fucking things.”
“I forgot, okay, so sue me, when did this become crap on Sophie day?”
“What the fuck? One problem goes away and gets replaced by the next Black Plague.”
“It could be nothing. I could be wrong. Let’s figure out this Dracula thing first. I want everybody there. I’m not summoning in some creeper alone.
“He’s probably not even Dracula. He’s another unhinged nerd who got a little chubby when superheroes were actually destroying their hometown. Are you sure he was a real Dracula?”
“He ticked all the boxes,” Hunter replied.
“Are you smoking Bart’s latest strain?”
“Are sure he was actually there?”
“He floated down the steps.”
“The eyewitness is compromised,” she said to Sophie.
“I guess we’ll find out.”
“Why can’t he just come back when you are home? When did it become incumbent on us to go through a bunch of bullshit, when he obviously knows where you live.”
“They get theatrical, don’t they?” Sophie said.
“You had to be High Priestess. You couldn’t be content with ‘Unknown Suspect.” Cheryl shook her head at Sophie.
“My fault too right?”
“Doesn’t matter. Either way, we just hand this guy over to Van Helsing or vice versa and whatever the fuck happens, happens.”
“Agreed. We’ll be home in about an hour, okay?”
“Roger,” Hunter replied and the speaker fell silent.
Sophie’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped, “Oh no.:
“What now?” Cheryl said and slumped over.
“That mugger had to have had a traumatic mental break when Mitzy crumpled into a singularity and slipped out of this dimension.”