Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vionna and the Vampires: Afterword

(From the private files of Doctor Unknown Junior's Pal, Jack Christian)

I make it a rule to avoid funerals. There is nothing about them that I like, and I hate what they represent.

By which I mean death. I have had my fill of death and then some. I've stared the Grim Reaper in the face until I'm sick of it. Sick to death, you might say, if you wanted to sound cute. So I generally choose to ignore him as much as possible. I'm under thirty, and already have no living relatives, and more friends underground than on the surface. Death is tragic and painful at first; after a while, it just becomes a pain in the ass. That's why I usually boycott the awkward ceremonies that spring up in its wake.

Sometimes, though, I get trapped. That was what had happened to me on a chilly day in late November, as I stood in an unassuming little marble orchard just outside the city of Zenith, next to my adopted sister Vionna Valis, listening to a brief eulogy for the extremely late Professor James Moriarty.

Yes, that Professor Moriarty. You may have thought he died in 1891, and you would have been right. However, he did not stay that way. Not exactly. There was this whole thing with Dracula, you see, who brought Moriarty back as a vampire. He would have occasion to regret that, but it would be too late. The Professor schemed and planned and waited for years. His opportunity came in 1908. Dracula was obliterated and Moriarty became the Lord of the Vampires.

Vionna has chronicled much of this for posterity in a memoir she wrote and published under the somewhat less than humble title Vionna and the Vampires. Further details are available in the pages of Black Centipede Confidential, the third volume of the endless autobiography of the Black Centipede. I won't rehash any of it here, except to say that the Professor had finally been undone. His vampiric existence had been brought to an end and he had gone on to whatever fate, if any, awaited his soul, if any.

All that was left to bury was an old suit of clothes soaked through with the foul-smelling ichor into which Moriarty had dissolved after succumbing to severe garlic poisoning. The clothing had been placed inside of a black vinyl body bag, which had been placed inside of an inexpensive but tasteful casket, which had been placed into a hole in the ground and covered with dirt.

There were six people present at the graveside service, including myself and Vionna. The others were Doctor Dana Unknown, Mary Jane Kelly, the Black Centipede, and a character named Scudder Moran.

In fact, this Scudder Moran was delivering the eulogy I mentioned earlier. Why him? That's a damn good question. He wasn't what you'd call the soul of eloquence. I guess he had earned the "honor" because he was the man who had finally put Moriarty out of business for good. Seeing and hearing Moran at the cemetery, I had a difficult time believing he was capable of such a feat, but Vionna and Mary swore it was the truth.

They also swore that the ghost of Sherlock Holmes had played a part in Moriarty's downfall.

My reaction to that was, What the hell, why not?

As Scudder babbled I stood between Vionna and Mary, holding their hands. Vionna was sniffling and sobbing, wiping at her eyes with a kleenex. Mary was dry-eyed and quiet, and seemed to be in a very strange mood. Across from us, on the other side of the grave, stood my magical little pal, Doctor Dana Unknown, and the legendary crime-fighter/criminal/possible lunatic, the Black Centipede, whom I also numbered among my tiny circle of friends. These two maintained a distance of several feet between them; if there's anything they dislike more than one another, I don't know what it would be.

Dana looked solemn, and that was about it. The Centipede, though he was unmasked, was completely inscrutable, as always. He was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, or anywhere else. He had something of a history with Moriarty, and it wasn't a friendly one, though he seemed to harbor no ill-will toward the deceased.

"And so," Scudder was saying, "as we, uh, commit this fine old suit of clothes to the, ah, clay from which it... y'know, whatever... we look back on our dear, ah, guy that... that we kind of knew for a little while, and we, ummm... We wish him the best of luck, and no hard feelings, even though he did act like a total dick, you have to admit... But, um, y'know, bygones will be bygones, and he really wasn't so... Well, actually, he was pretty bad, really... But, I mean, we won and everything, right? So , I guess there's no point in just totally ragging on Moriarty now. It sort of reminds me of the episode of Professor Conundrum where he..."

Vionna, who had stopped crying and started glaring at Scudder, finally erupted:

"Oh my God! That's enough! I knew it was a bad idea to let you get up and talk! Didn't I say that, Mary? Didn't I?"

"About a hundred times, dear," Mary said calmly. I gathered she had spent a lot of time learning how to remain calm around my sister.

"And I was right, wasn't I?" Vionna snapped.

Scudder had stopped talking and was looking both confused and hurt. Dana and the Centipede both appeared to be making heroic efforts not to laugh out loud. I had to join them. I didn't think I could hold out for very long.

I looked away and tried to think of something sad so as not to succumb to a giggling fit in the middle of a graveside service. I caught sight of a familiar tree on a familiar little knoll a hundred yards to my left. Just beyond the knoll was a grave in which were interred the mortal remains of Captain Mercury-- such as they were. Inside the regulation-sized casket was a small metal capsule containing approximately seven ounces of biological material. That was all that had been left of Captain Mercury after the bomb that killed him had gone off. Most of it had been gathered up by crime scene technicians at the blast site. Some of it I had scraped off of the front of my old Kid Mercury costume. A tiny amount had been sent to a DNA lab for identification. The remainder had been laid to rest with full honors.

That was a part of my life that I hated to think about. Actually, most parts of my life fell into that category. This was the first time I had been to this cemetery since the Captain, my old superhero mentor, had been planted. That whole thing was grim enough to keep my merriment under control. In fact, it was more than was required for the job. Overkill. I was going to need a few drinks very soon.

Then I noticed someone standing by the tree. Whoever it was had been behind it, and had stepped out into my line of sight. He or she had on a long, black overcoat and a black hat, not unlike the gear the Black Centipede usually wore. I couldn't see a face, but I had the strong feeling that this individual was looking right at me, but that could have been the paranoia that always lurks just beneath the surface of my psyche. I could probably train myself to ignore it, but it comes in handy sometimes. When balanced against Dana Unknown's relentlessly rational and supremely confident frame of mind, it is a business asset. There's plenty of friction, but it helps keep both of us closer to the center of the spectrum, which is where you want to be, if you have any sense, which practically nobody does.

... to be continued in The Return of Little Precious...


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