A Permanent Solution
Duke Foster had reached the end, not only the end of his self-imposed 12 hour Uber shift, but the end of his savings, and the end of his rope. The Uber turf wars were taking its toll on him and $400 a week was not enough to cover expenses after deducting gas, wear and tear, and ammunition. He was known as the Duke of Conshohocken, A Number One, but such a position takes its toll on even the heartiest warrior. Duke was done and he knew exactly how he was going to do it. You spend a lot of time sitting in the Target parking lot and that gives you a lot of time to plan. He would do it on a Friday night. The longest period of time wherein anyone would notice he was missing. If they noticed he was missing. More likely the neighbors would pick up the stench after about a week, wafting from his trailer. He’d pop a bunch of pills and sit in the bathtub. He didn’t want anyone to have to clean up after him. They’d only have to lug his hefty carcass to the dump, or where ever the Man insisted it go. He’d prefer to be thrown into the woods and let the critters have at him, but that’s not how the Man does things. And that’s what he did.
He slipped on a pair of depends because he had heard you void your bowels upon death. He ran a comb through his long, black, greased up, Glenn Danzig mane. He at least wanted to look good at the viewing no one would attend. He set up candles around the bathroom, sat on saucers. He didn’t need to start a fire. Duke sat in the empty tub and took a cocktail of whatever he could find in the cabinet and some additional sundries he picked up at CVS on the way home. He choked down his final meal. It was chalky and tasted of medicine because it was medicine. Medicine to cure him of his affliction of still being alive. He smoked one last bowl of weed and closed his eyes. It was unpleasant and painful for several hours, but so was an Uber shift. He didn’t mind. It would all be over soon. He passed on sometime around 3 AM. His cat cried. He had forgotten to put food out before he left.
His eyes fluttered open about 7 the next evening.
“Shit on a stick,” he grumbled, “I can’t even die right.”
He hoisted himself out of the tub, which was surprisingly easy considering the pharmaceutical melange he had ingested 24 hours prior. In fact, he felt light as a feather. The candles had burnt down to waxy disks in the saucers. He fumbled for the light switch, missed and put his finger through the wall.
“What the…” he groaned and flipped the light on.
He caught his image in the mirror and jumped back. His skin was an ashen white and his eyes had turned a solid black and they were ringed in grey circles. He looked about as he thought he should save for still being alive to see it. A frantic banging started at his front door.
“Hey, Duke,” a scratchy voice called over the incessant knocking, “Duke, man, you in?”
Duke traveled the two steps from the bathroom to the front door and pulled it open. Standing there was what passed for a best friend in his world, Skip Renfield. Skip’s hand was still making knocking motions despite the absence of a door. He was a jittery sort, that never seemed to stop moving. He was always twitching and plucking at his clothing or running his fingers through his thinning hair. He turned his head and saw Duke standing in the door. Not exactly standing.
“Woah, Duke,” Skip jumped back, “You look like shit,” Skip reached into his back pocket and pulled out a can of beer, “I was saving that for my niece's christening, but it looks like you need it more.”
Duke took the beer and bit into it with his canines. He popped the tab and shotgunned it through the two puncture holes. He sucked it dry and noticed what he had done. He probed his teeth with his tongue.
“Holy shit, Duke, where’d you get those chompers?”
Skip looked down and noticed Duke’s feet. They weren’t touching the ground.
“Doooood, that is awesome, how are you doing that?”
“What?” Duke grumbled.
“I have no idea. I just woke up. C’mon in,” Duke floated aside to let Skip through the door.
“You didn’t drive today?”
“No. I’ve been asleep all day.”
“Child support ain’t gonna pay for itself.”
“I tried to do it, Skip.”
“How hard can it be? You get in the car and turn the app on.”
“No, I mean ‘it’.”
Skip stopped vibrating, “No way...dude. Why? That’s so stupid.”
“Why not? I’ve got nothing ahead of me and nothing but a history royally fucking up behind me. What I’m am I still hanging around for, taking up space?”
“Well...I don’t know...you just do, people just do, they don’t just check out.”
“All I have ahead of me is a grim future with no one in it.”
“Well...I mean...I’m here right? I’m your friend, right?”
“You know what I mean. I’m never going to start a family. I can barely keep my own ass afloat.”
“Just because it looks dark now…”
“What? What’s gonna change, Skip? What’s gonna suddenly happen?”
“Maybe you just need to go for a walk. Wanna go for a walk?”
Duke grunted in feeble protest and followed Skip from the trailer. They walked along the gravel paths of the trailer park. Skip twitching like St. Vitus and Duke floating beside him.
“Hey, guys,” an older woman call from her trailer door.
“Hey, Kim,” they called back.
“Dude, Duke are you floating?”
“I guess so.”
“Coolness,” she said and went back inside.
A car came tearing through the lot on a collision course for Duke and Skip. Duke grabbed Skip by his collar and held him out of the way as the car rammed into him. He didn’t budge as the car’s grill wrapped around his legs.
“Holy shit, dude,” Skip.
“Coolness,” Kim sang out the window, “You’re like one of those dudes that fights aliens and shit.”
“Did you even feel that?”
“Kind of. It was like getting tackled,” Duke replied.
“You should get like a secret identity or some shit,” Kim said, “You could be The Batdude or something.”
“That one’s kind of taken.”
“Dude, with the teeth and the looking dead and floating, you’re like a vampire,” Skip said.
“Awesome,” Kim said, “You could be Duke Dracula.”
“Yeah, a duke is better than a count. It’s like Dracula except he got a promotion.”
“Dukes are better than counts?”
“Yeah, a count runs a county, which is why it’s called a county, and a duke runs a bunch of counties. Dukes are way better than counts.”
“How do you know all this shit?”
“I’m going in,” Duke said, forlorn, “I have to sit down.”
“Wait, I’ll come with you,” Skip said.
“I just want to sit alone. If I can sit and not just float two inches above the couch.”
“You gotta at least let me try to help. You did just save my life and shit.”
“Fine. Try not to talk too much.”
They sat in Duke's trailer watching the television. Skip kept flipping through the four stations that would come in as if more would suddenly appear.
“What’s wrong with your satellite dish, man?” Skip said, “The only thing coming in is the news.”
Duke pointed at the oversized ashtray sitting on the coffee table brimming with burnt roaches, “Just leave it on whatever. I just need background noise.”
Skip settled on Action News because he thought the theme song was stoney and was hoping to hear it.
The news was showing footage of Sophie fighting with a man in a trenchcoat, firing a crossbow at her.
“My little girl loves her,” Duke said.
“She’s cool. I like the sword guy,” Skip said. He made several gestures toward Duke as if he was about to say something, but was balancing it against how dumb it might sound if said aloud, “Why don’t you do that?”
“Kick bad guy ass.”
“Get the hell out of here.”
“It might help you feel less like a piece of shit.”
“Making a decent living would make me feel like less of a piece of shit.”
“There’s gotta be a way to make a living at it. How do those guys do it?”
“I always wondered that.”
“We can make it a job. Advertise, put out an app…”
“Yeah, so people can call you when shit goes down.”
“Okay, but who's going to make an app?”
“You took night classes at the community college.”
“You can figure anything out on YouTube.”
“Dude, look at those people,” Skip pointed to the news, “That’s nuts. You killed yourself and woke up a vampire. That’s nuts. Trying to make it all work for you, isn’t the part that’s crazy. That just makes sense.”
“A man identified only as ‘Van Helsing’ was seen clashing with the High Priestess, today in Center City,” the anchorwoman said.
Skip and Duke looked at each other.
“You believe in coincidences?” Skip asked.
“Usually,” Duke replied.
“Dude, you already have a nemesis. It’s karma, man, or destiny or whatever.”
“I don’t know, man.”
“It doesn’t look like he’s one of the good guys and, c’mon; Van Helsing and Dracula? It’s perfect.”
As Duke watched the report his eyes began to twinkle, “I think you’re crazy, but it also feels right, somehow. I see the way my little girl looks up to that Priestess chick. She never looks up to me like that...where do you think I could find him?”
“Well, it looks like he’s got beef with the Priestess. You should talk to her. They’ve got plenty of arch enemies, I’m sure they’d love to offload one on somebody. Maybe they can give you some pointers while we’re at it.”
“Okay, well, where do I find her?”
“Good question. I’ll do some scouting for you, see if I can track them down. My dad was a bounty hunter, he took me on jobs after my mom left. I still remember some tricks.”
“Thanks,” Duke pondered in silence for a moment, “I wonder if I can go out in the daylight?”
“You’ll probably want to figure that out. In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted if I track down any of those Menagerie guys.”
Duke awoke the next morning with a burning sensation in his eyes. A shaft of sunlight was pouring in through the window directly and dousing his head in gold. He slapped his hand over his face and rolled away. He looked toward the light and looked away in pain. He reached out and submerged his hand into the golden shaft. He jerked back and made another attempt. He winced, but then softened. He wiggled his fingers in the light. He didn’t feel any pain, but it felt warmer than he thought it should have. After a few minutes of bathing his hand the light, it turned from an ashen white to ruddy pink. He withdrew.
“Skip the tan, go straight to a burn,” he thought, “At least I didn’t catch fire.”
He rummaged through his closet and pulled out various bits of clothing until he found a suitable combination. He chose a thin hooded sweatshirt and a trenchcoat to pull over the top of that. He opened a shoe box filled with cheap sunglasses of various shapes and sizes, settling on the old lady, terminator wraparounds. He found his leather gloves from when he owned a motorcycle years ago, complete with steel knuckle studs. The finishing touch was a bandana to cover the remaining exposed skin on his face. He stood posing himself in the mirror.
“At least you look badass,” he thought.
He stepped out of his trailer and heard the cooing voice of his neighbor, Kim.
“Coolness,” she dragged the word out like a mantra.
“Can’t take the sunlight for too long,” Duke said.
“You really are a vampire, that’s awesome. Let me see you turn into a bat.”
Duke clenched his fists for a moment then shook them out and clenched them again, grunting and holding his breath. He loosened up.
“I don’t think I can,” he said, resigned.
“That sucks. Can you at least fly?”
“I can float. I haven’t had a chance to see how high I can go.”
Duke stood still and for a moment nothing happened. But then he began to rise. It was slow at first, but as he got the hang of it, he picked up speed. He rose high above the trailer park, the tails of his coat flapping in the breeze.
“Coolness,” Kim shouted to him, “Do a loop de loop.”
Duke made a few clumsy maneuvers, but soon he was zipping around like an enormous black dragonfly.
“This will really help with UberEats deliveries,” he said, “I wonder if altitude effects pings.”
He shot off toward Center City and flew loops around the skyscrapers, hooting and hollering. His cell phone began playing ‘Rock You Like Hurricane.’ He answered it.
“What’s up, Skip?” he said.
“I got an address for you,” Skip replied.
“That was quick.”
“I’m the man.”
Duke arrived at the address and floated up the three flights of stairs to apartment number three. He raised his hand to knock and withdrew.
“How should I play this?” he thought, “Mysterious stranger?”
He caught his reflection in the fire extinguisher. He pulled back his hood and took his glasses off. He preened his hair and knocked. Nobody answered. He knocked again. He heard what sounded like someone playing an off-key melody.
“Flute guy is in there?” he thought, “Doesn’t sound that great in person.”
He continued to wait and the door swung open. A wild-haired man was standing there with glazed eyes, behind yellow tinted aviators. He was wearing a red bathrobe and holding a sword.
“Psamurai is in there too?” he thought, “What kind of arrangement are these freaks rocking?”
“What are you selling?” Psamurai barked.
“I’m looking for a Ms. Sophia Fischer,” Duke 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,” Duke heard himself saying these things and thought, “Dial it back, Duke, don’t get goofy.”
“What else do your children tell you?”
“They tell me…” Duke sighed at himself on the inside and thought, “Fuck it. I guess you’re running with this,” he continued, “...Sophia Fischer has crossed paths with him on more than one occasion. I was 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 did all he could to not wince at the words leaving his mouth, “Duke Dracula. She’ll know how to find me.”
He turned as if he was in a microwave and glided down the steps. He felt he had embarrassed himself enough for one day.
“She’ll know how to find me?” he snapped to himself, “How the fuck is she going to do that?”
He drifted back and forth in floating approximation of pacing. He wanted to go back up for a redux but was too embarrassed to show his face again. Plus, he had startled Psamurai and Piper enough for one day. He returned to his trailer to grouse in the dark.
Later that evening Skip pounded on his trailer door.
“Come...” he dropped his head and pinched the bridge of his nose, “...on in.”
“So, how did it go?” Skip burst in dripping with anticipation.
“I made a complete asshole out of myself.”
“I got caught up in the moment.”
Skip looked at Duke like the RCA dog.
“I got carried away and started talking about my ‘children’ and how the High Priestess would know how to contact me…”
“How would she know how to contact you?”
“That’s what I mean. I’m an idiot,” Duke slumped forward, “She’ll know how to contact me. Such an asshole…”
As Duke groused he was overtaken by a new sensation. He shot out of his seat and almost collided with the ceiling.
“What’s up, dude?” Skip asked, “Besides you?”
“I...don't...know…” Duke stammered, “It feels like I’m being pulled through a keyhole by my chest.”
Skip reached up and grabbed him by the ankle. His grip closed around nothing. Duke had disappeared like he was sucked through a pinprick in reality.
Duke’s vision became cloudy. He felt he was standing on solid ground. Shadowy, blurred figures surrounded him. He couldn’t string a coherent thought together and clicked into survival mode. He took a swing and made contact with one of the figures. The others descended on him. He found himself in a melee with unknown foes. Something metallic smacked him on the face and he spun around only to find himself being doused in sharp, silver light, blinding him further. He lunged in the direction he was facing hoping to get his hands on at least one of assailants. He found himself engulfed in crackling energy and was being lifted off the ground. He squinted through the pain to ascertain the source of this current coursing through his body and pulling him around in the air. Blond hair and a sparkling white coat were all he could make out.
“If you have some sort of beef with my sister, Nosferatu, you’re at the end of a very long line,” the white coat said.
“Who’s your sister?” Duke gasped through the pain.
“You don’t know? You came to her apartment earlier today.”
“Van Helsing...I want Van Helsing.”
“Why did you attack us?”
“I can’t see anything...I just reacted.”
Sophie was leafing through the Principia, “Oh, on the next page it lists temporary blindness and disorientation as side effects. Sorry, about that.”
“Maybe read ahead, Soph,” Cheryl lowered herself and Duke back to the ground. Duke collapsed on his rear, panting.
“Jesus,” Duke rolled to hand and knees and threw up.
“You’ll understand if we’re a little jumpy,” Cheryl said, “We’ve been getting an asston of shit lately from wannabe arch enemies. And you show up at my sister’s hovel doing your best Frank Langella...”
“Yeah, no, I get it. I got a little to into the part.”
“I’d stick with it,” Cheryl offered her hand to help him up, “It works.”
Duke grabbed her hand and she hoisted him to his feet, or at least the two inches of air underneath them.
“Do you always just float around like that?” Sophie asked.
“I think so,” Duke replied, “This is all new to me.”
“If you want Van Helsing you’re welcome to him,” Cheryl said, “You’re probably going to be disappointed, though, he more of a cosplay weirdo than a supervillain.”
“Why Van Helsing in particular?” Hunter asked.
“Well,” Duke gestured to his general aura, “Van Helsing, Dracula…”
“Oh, you’re running with the theme,” Cheryl said, “God, I miss being new at this and think an arch nemesis would be cool.”
“I’d say he’s more an annoyance than an arch nemesis, but I think you could make it work,” Sophie gave him an encouraging smile.
“What’s his deal?” Duke asked.
“He’s a straight, white dude, so of course he has an ax to grind against the world,” Cheryl replied.
“Does he have any powers?”
“It looks like he might be able to do a few pull-ups...double digits even.”
“Do you know where I can find him?”
“Just hang around Soph and wait five minutes. The dude is obsessed for some reason.”
“He thinks Van Helsing hunts witches,” Sophie added.
“Oh...huh,” Duke said.
“But maybe when he meets a real vampire…”
“I don’t think I’m a real vampire. I had an Egg McMuffin this morning and I’m feeling like a cheesesteak about now.”
“Magically, you register as undead. The summoning worked.”
“Where am I? Fairmount?”
“Yeah, it’s the only outdoor area in town where I could find a secluded enough spot for the summoning ritual,” Sophie said.
“I think I’m going to fly to Geno’s,” Duke said.
“Ugh, Geno’s,” Cheryl made a gagging noise, “Are you sure you’re not a villain?”
“Don’t tell me you’re a Pat’s girl?”
“Till I die.”
Duke lifted off into the air.
“Okay, Duke Dracula,” Sophie said, “See you around?”
“Foster,” Duke said, “Duke Foster. And yeah, sure, if you guys need a hand with anything, you know how to contact me...apparently. I’m new at this so any practice I can get would be great.”
Duke darted off to South Philly and his cheesesteak.
“Flight,” Sophie said forlorn, “I’m jealous.”
“Eat it, Fischer,” Cheryl said and lifted herself off the ground in a shroud of crackling lightning.