“You know there’s a restaurant downstairs I’ve been meaning to try.” Elizabeth carried Stan in her scaly arms.
A waiter in a devil costume skated over and blew a ring of fire like a gum bubble. “Just the two of you?” He spoke only to Elizabeth. “Right this way.”
The only other customers were overturned swamp buoys: swamps who had walked away from their locations and then been overturned like drunkards.
“Sorry Empress. It’s the sort of scum only the Ice Princesses would drag in.” His crooked devil tail caressed Stan’s neck. “What’s his problem?”
Elizabeth grabbed a plate of strawberries swarming with honey bees and devoured it while continuing at her brisk pace. She burped then causally smashed the plate on the castle floor. “He’s sick with the time. Now for dessert we want the past–no whip us up the Ice Princess frost winds. Bottle it up. Fry it with the streaking of a star. We’ll get our veins extended.”
“You know there’s a restaurant downstairs I’ve been meaning to try.” Elizabeth carried Stan in her scaly arms.
Dayglo Arnie pulled a strip of flesh from the flank of a half-human Dracun Lizard. Its body roasted over a spit inside a Bedouin tent. Arnie sucked at the greasy flesh while glaring at his recruits in disappointment.
Stan and the police officer lay hogtied on the canvas ground. The police officer wiggled, his revolving face thudding as it spun like a windup toy fallen over on its side.
Arnie licked his fingers and lifted a thin black whip from a compartment in his round midsection. “Well, what are you waiting for? Escape. Escape! REBEL!” He hissed, barring his fangs. “Don’t you want to be a hero? Don’t you want to save the world?”
Dayglo Arnie paused for a few minutes, impatiently checking his watch between quick whip slashess that seemed to pull off thin pieces of facial skin. “Alright. I’ll escape for you.” He untied Stan and the police officer and pushed them towards the opening of the tent.
Three tough street kids stood outside. One had an eye patch, another had gold ears, and a third had a prosthetic arm.
The police officer sighed, pale with dread. “Those are the other recruits.” He sighed again. “Maybe someday we can be brave like them and not have our master rebel for us.”
Dayglo Arnie pushed them out forcefully.
The street kids flipped open switchblades.
A ghostly blue Elizabeth Dracula floated by.
“You’ll die from the Ice Flue in three days.”
Stan tumbled into the desert sands until tangled in red silk sheets. He rolled over. Elizabeth Dracula with a Dracun Lizard Face slumbered. Her snake tongue flitted around her reptilian mouth. “Welcome to the bed of your death,” she mumbled, eyes closed, blue birds the size of ants coasting over her leathery green cheeks.
After they’d climbed the stone steps of the castle, feral Elizabeth Dracula shifted back into mousy Cheryl Chillingsworth. The bedroom doors swung open, silk drapes ushering them inside. But the view overlooked the sea and the floors were white carpet rather than stone. The walls were colored eggshell. The opposite window revealed a quaint cul-de-sac.
Cheryl stepped out of her lab coat and smock. She lit a blue crystal at the end of a vial. She exhaled the smoke slowly and proffered the makeshift pipe to Stan. “Would you like some Flue?”
Her condo was empty except for a series of glass cylinders and tubing by the window with the sea view. A purple liquid bubbled and cooked, worming through her invention. “While you’ve been brewing your Ice Flue, I’ve been fiddling with a liquid diet of my own.”
A man with green skin and the head of a Dracun Lizard was tied to a chair in the corner, his wrists slashed and his teeth grinding as he clenched his eyes as if being administered a shock treatment.
Someone knocked on the front door.
“Pardon me, neighbor, but have you any butter?” Heiferwaith wore a silk nightie. His face went pale. “Murderer! MURDERER! I’m calling the police officer.” He stormed off.
Stan raced after him, yet as he coasted above the wooden steps to Cheryl’s condo they shifted back to the stone steps of the castle.
The police officer waited at the bottom, his face still blurring between male and female as his now wooden arms with white gloves revolved like cranks. “Where have you been? You’ve missed detail for a week. All the new recruits have been talking about it. I know it was just us before, but there’s lots of others now too. And since we started off as partners, Dayglo Arnie said we’d BOTH be punished.”
As they rode through the darkness, Elizabeth Dracula’s skeleton sparkled with swampy vapors. “I may as well admit: I am Elizabeth Dracula. I don’t want to rebel anymore. I want to submit. Come back to my condo. I will cure your every last ailment, Stan. I want you alone in the Time of the Ice Princesses.” She leaned the motorcycle for such a long turn it felt like they were going in circles.
A broken vial hung from Stan’s wrist like a candy wrapper. The shattered glass defied gravity. The blue liquid of the Ice Flue hung in the air like droplets from a splashed puddle.
Finally, Elizabeth Dracula righted the motorcycle. They stood on a glowing fog in the shape of a drawbridge before a bone-shaped castle. She revved the engine, grinning perversely.
Ice Princesses gazed down, their jaws widened like figures from a Japanese folktale.
Elizabeth buried Stan’s face in her fur collar, pushing at the back of his neck with vulpine swiftness. Her perfume smelt of persimmon, her hair of cinnamon. “Come upstairs. I can correct the kinks in your Flue. But we must hurry before my wives come home!”
Her kiss was sweeter than sucking the blood from a peach in a sea of sugar.
The laboratory was cold and dark; jagged shadows of the experimental disease machinery were cast from the pale moonlight.
A light in the laboratory desk station next to Stan’s turned on. With enormous pilot goggles obscuring her face, she went immediately to work on a glowing orange and serum. After about five minutes of adding and subtracting chemicals, her serum exploded and burned to a dark crisp. “Damn!” She raised her goggles. It was unmistakably the beautiful but terrifying face of Elizabeth Dracula.
Stan recoiled in horror. “Elizabeth—“
“Cheryl, actually.” She extend a long, thin hand, the Elizabeth snake rings intact with raised unusual jewels from the Zebra Fire Mines of Zantra. “I just started here yesterday, although my main interest is in politics. I’d like to be queen someday.” She blushed. “Arrogant, aren’t I? I haven’t even asked your name yet and here I am spouting off about my pipe dreams.” Her tone became series as the green in her eyes sent a chill through Stan. “I just want to state here and now that I do believe in the Time of the Ice Princesses with all my heart.”
Daylgo Arnie’s menacing and sweaty clown face appeared on the day screen at the front of the laboratory. “Okay grunts! Who’s ready to rebel against the system? Now don’t get down and give me—“ The screen was flipped off. Cheryl stood beside the screen, her puckered lips crumpled like a starfish’s legs as she raised a thin finger to them. Nobody had ever rebelled against rebelling in Stan’s presence. Nobody contradicted the revelations of Dayglo Arnie. Nobody.
Cheryl walked down the aisle, the green of her eyes flaking to blue as she stared hypnotically beyond Stan’s soul. “We’ve been at it all night and you haven’t even asked me out for a drink. Wanna play hooky?” Cheryl smiled, the ghosts of recently consumed silver cockroaches burning into muted fireworks displays. “I’m sick of all this rebellion. Let’s try a different approach. Have you ever been hurt by submitting? No? But it’s the most delicious hurt there is. I don’t even care if a religious disease burns me from the inside out. Get on the back of motorcycle, Stan Lunch, and hold me tight. Hold me like I’m your last breath of fresh air. Breathe me like a breath of ice.”
She ran her fingers through Stan’s hair, but the excitement made him clench up. He raised a shaking hand: he’d burst another vial of Ice Flue. The blue liquid dripped down his wrist like a precious wasted drug. His eyes blurred as he went cross-eyed until he could only see the glowing green skull of Elizabeth Dracula cackling as she gunned her motorcycle and aimed it straight past his soul.
Above ground was an endless desert, except for some bone-shaped skyscrapers blending with glittering ice castles in the far distance.
There were no other recruits besides Stan and the police officer.
“Get down and DON’T give me a 1,000. We’re gonna make you rebel and we’re gonna make you like it!” Dayglo Arnie roared, lifting belts from the sands and strapping Stan and the police officer down so that it was impossible to do a single push-up even if they’d chosen not to rebel.
The two ferocious suns beat down from overhead as Stan coughed from the sand he inhaled. As Dayglo Arnie began to lecture about the importance of rebellion at all costs, Stan’s attention drifted to the faraway town of bone-shaped skyscrapers and glittering ice castles.
“Don’t look over there. You are forbidden to visit the Time of the Ice Princesses,” the police officer said, lipstick blurring into mustache while smirking.
One of the ice princesses floated across the desert as fast as an arrow. Her lips were grotesque as her jaw spread inhumanly wide as she smiled and rocket back and forth as if her face were a villainous mask in a Noh theater production. “Take the Ice Flue to Elizabeth Dracula. Only then can you bridge the gap to the Time of the Ice Princesses. Go back to discover the ice flue again. Go back.”
The Ice Flue droplets had changed from blue to red on Stan’s hand.
Dayglo Arnie, red in the face, continued to berate the police officer for its lack of motivation in rebellion. But, due to the altered state of the Ice Flue, Stan faded from existence as Dayglo Arnie and the police officer looked on in dumbfounded slow motion.
Stan’s surroundings elapsed and blurred, his vision a throbbing tunnel, as he was pushed back to a surface, a cold dark cave surface that gradually revealed itself as his laboratory. He held an unspilled vial of blue Ice Flue as a magic trick had been reversed.
Their bunk was like the inner chamber of a submarine.
“Would you like some butter? Mother sent it from Germany!” The interval between spins had shrunken to a millisecond and the police officer blurred between male and female.
Stan Lunch regarded the stick of coiled butter with dismay: it was shrouded by mold and packed full with cricket carcasses.
“Mother says Elizabeth Dracula eats this every morning to keep her skin looking beautiful.” The police officer’s metal limbs resembled an antique wind-up toy.
The hatch opened violently as a rush of boiling water poured onto Stan and the police officer. Steam rose from the police officer’s limbs as Stan screamed in agony. His metal hand bubbled and popped, but it didn’t feel like his skin burned; his hand was being forcibly shrunken, slowly and as if by an AWOL gravitational pull.
Dayglo Arnie straddled the opening of the hatch. “Get a move on grunts. Your training has already begun. Where were you during the introductory video? Didn’t you hear the Flue Whistle?” Dayglo Arnie, his white clown makeup glowing as beads of sweat suspended within thick strands of his orange clown afro, hissed with fangs barred.
The policeman thunderously, his shoulders in his shadow so massive they could crack a head like a walnut. He swung a spiked ball, rocking his thick neck back and forth.
“Gee whiz. How are you?” The policeman bubbled. Every few seconds or so, the policeman’s body would swing 180 degrees, revealing a policewoman on the back side of him. Each wore tall police officer hats like in The Great Wall of Britainia. Their skin was overly shiny like they were made of the same materials as antique toys.
“You must be our latest recruit,” the female half said, extending a hand. Before Stan could shake it, the police officer spun, slapping Stan with its cold hard metal.
Stan ran his fingers along his throbbing jaw. Was it crooked now?
“We’re so sorry about that.” The male half sobbed hysterically.
The female half became pensive, her lip flaring up as the sky turned from tranquil blue to throbbing red.
Stan lifted the broken vial containing the Ice Flue. The mercury-like liquid pooled in Stan’s now steel hand. He could not move his fingers; it was like his hand had altered to an iron glove. The cobalt blue liquid of the Ice Flue crawled on Stan and the police officer.
The police officer guided Stan behind the billboard. “Come with me, new recruit. I hear we will be bunkmates!” She put Stan in a bear hug, grabbed his groin as if about to heave him, and jumped into a black hole surrounded by swirling shards of powder blue, sparkling ice.
Stan’s hover car passes hundreds of Ice Enterprise employees for his departure coincided exactly with their arrival.
The Ice Flue, warm like the embers of a campfire, hummed in his lab coat.
A blue film glazed the early morning sky. Treasure birds, wrapped tightly with their dead in bundles, hung from billboard scenes from the Holy Book of Dracula and Dayglo like cryptic warnings, but nobody could be watching Stan. Nobody else knew about the Ice Flue, right?
Woozy, distracted, yet curious about this break in Stan’s daily driving routine, Stan’s hover car sniffed around a billboard depicting a scene from the Frost Holly Book of Derevelations: a thousand or so children sank with the burning ship while praying to a ghostly giant emanation of Elizabeth Dracula, immune to both flames and drowning in her ghostly state. The children had undergone the purest act of martyrdom for the cause, according to the book. The cause was Elizabeth Dracula’s continued animation by crickets.
The next billboard illustrated a scene from the Holy Book of Defamation Regulations in which versions of Elizabeth Dracula hatched from eggs, her heads wobbling grotesquely on the bodies of spiders.
Arnie Dayglo approached with his brigade of the Child Crusade–curiously, all of the same children from the previous depiction were present–bearing flamethrowers.
The children set the spiders with Elizabeth Dracula heads aflame in the manger. The scene bubbled and popped like a burning oil painting.
A Police Sandwich Cruiser pulled up alongside Stan’s now nervous hover car.
Stan gulped. A strip search would undoubtedly uncover the Ice Flue.
When Stan resurfaced, after having retrieved over 20 ecto ghosts, his chamber at Ice Enterprises was silent and dark, A smashed vial of his breakthrough concoction, the Ice Flue, lay on the floor beneath his lab desk station.
Most alarming was that Stan had revealed this invention of synthetic disease warfare, the Ice Flue, to no one. It caused one’s opponents bones to shift to a cheap brittle metal, yet also enacted other curious side effects which Stan Lunch did not yet fully understand.
Stan’s first successful administration of the Ice Flue had occurred yesterday upon the unfortunate Trouser—a recently-deceased faithful servant of the company (Ice Enterprises), Trouser’s human-sized spider bones had shattered from a tooth-pick prick following a miniscule dose of the Ice Flue.
What was ironic was that Ice Enterprises was known for its Body Heat mists, a sprayable substance five times warmer than down feathers. Stan had originally been tasked with biological warfare shield work, but had inadvertently discovered a powerful weapon (The Ice Flue) instead.
A hologram plant across Stan’s chamber and unfolded: Ice Enterprises took pride in the fact that it forced all its employees to become informed citizens.
Elizabeth Dracula’s doughy, pockmarked visage reigned supreme over the insect antennae airwaves with the usual aura of terror. The green juices of a mashed sequeira caterpillar dribbled down her chin as she belched blue fire and clacked her purple crystal skull scepter as if upon the forehead of a distracted pupil.
“Citizens!” She blew a swirling rainbow of fire which roamed around her powdery face. “We have work to do! Don’t eat, sleep, love, or allow yourselves even the slightest pleasures!”
Stan Lunch saluted Elizabeth Dracula and began marching in place. It was required that citizens march to the tune of the cricket anthem, which, when slowed down, sounded like a million violins pleading in a rhapsody.
Midway though the march, Elizabeth Dracula’s face was replaced by Dayglo Arnie. Although it was hard to take Dayglo Arnie seriously with his orange clown wig and vampire fangs, it was also a requirement that citizens rebel whenever he incited a rebellion. “It might not be any of my business, but Elizabeth Dracula is just a doll animated by crickets. Now let’s skip work and play hooky as the world crumbles! Are you ready to boogie?” Arnie break danced, his gold chain of scorpions whapping and smearing his clown make-up as video surveillance footage revealing the back of Elizabeth Dracula’s head with thousands of cricket legs twitching along her neckline as if in competition to animate her.
Arnie Dayglo, as he turned to reveal the back of his orange afro, was also being animated by insects—but in his case it was by a swarm of praying mantises.
“Citizens. It is now your duty to rebel. NOW!”
Stan pocketed the last remaining unbroken vial of Ice Flue in his lab coat.