Brothers in Stitches
by Dantzel Cherry
I’m sorry to say Master lay charred and inert on the laboratory floor for a good quarter hour before I noticed he was dead. I regret pulling the wrong lever, resulting in an overflow of electricity from the storm, the brunt of which Master received, resulting in his death and a ruined experiment. I’m even sorrier to admit I then ate all his internal organs before I remembered to offer any to Harry the moaning subject chained to the metal chair in the middle of the room or to the rest of my brothers-in-stitches in the downstairs dungeon.
“Not your fault, Legs,” Spec said with his mouth full. All six of us were gathered around the newly deceased, paying our respects the best way we knew how. “Master gave you poor impulse control when he added that tiger brain in your frontal lobe.”
“And you’ve earned an extra nibble – no one could drag their seven-limbed ass around to do Master’s bidding faster than you,” Squints said.
“Besides, Master was an ass,” Harry said.
Everyone gasped midbite. I chuckled nervously and excused Harry for his audacity. Master clearly wouldn’t be springing up to defend himself and anyway, Harry was the newest brother. He’d also been the intended subject of today’s experiment, Intracorporeal Wolf Blood Tissue Profusion, and we were all poor sports on our experiment days.
Once we’d had our fill, we settled down on the lab floor to pick the sinewy bits from our teeth and discuss what came next. I, who held the record for Fewest Beatings in a Week, led the discussion.
“What do we do now?”
No one spoke right away. We weren’t used to making decisions.
“Might be fun to finally terrorize the village,” Grunts said, flexing his newly installed metal claws.
Harry laughed nervously and stroked his luxurious armhair, only recently regrown. “I dunno. That time I ran away, I got lost and the villagers found me. I don’t fancy their pitchforks and torches.”
“We could leave through the south pass, find our families,” Spec suggested.
“You can bet your beady eyes I won’t be going back,” Grunts said to Spec. “My family sold me.”
“Would they even take us back?” I asked, gesticulating at my extra bits. “Look at us, we’re-”
“Don’t say it!” Grunts said, snuffling.
“Grunts, this is important. We. Are. Monsters.” I raised my voice over his wails. “But what was it that Master always said right before he started working on us? ‘Accept the things to which fate binds you.’ Now, whose arm is this?” I asked, holding up my extra left hand. It was covered in dark coarse hair, and of course Harry raised his remaining hand.
“And your eyes?” I turned to Spec. He pointed to Squints and Toothy.
“You see? We’re bound to each other. And in turn we are bound to this castle. Let us accept our inheritance from the Master,” I said.
The fellows muttered their agreement, but poor Grunts was overcome with sniveling and eye-rubbing. He wouldn’t calm down until we relocated to the master’s chambers and steadied him with two full glasses of port from the master’s stash in the secret wall compartment.
“Could we – could we move out of the dungeons?” Squints asked, stroking the satin sheets on the master’s bed. “I’ve missed pillows.”
An idea sparked in my brain and I was fairly certain it was a good one.
“What if we each took turns being Master and sleeping in his…?”
Everyone stared. Even Squints turned his two sightless slits towards me.
“Or – we could dog pile on like right now,” I said. “That’s nice, too.”
“What is left for us here?” Squints asked. “Besides the feather pillows, of course.”
I looked around the room for help. I knew what I wanted, but what did everyone else think?
“For starters, I’d like my hand back,” Harry said, eyeing my third hand.
“And I’m tired of dragging this tail around,” Grunts said, holding up the limp elephant tail that Master had never quite innervated properly.
The other three chorused their agreement, which was heartening. I didn’t want the cumbersome extra limbs that Master had given me, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up the tiger bit.
“I don’t know that we can become exactly as we were before Master brought us here,” I said. “Master was a very learned man.”
“But we have his books and notes!” Harry said.
“It may be years before we’re ready for our first experiment,” I added.
No one backed down.
“Let’s vote on it, then,” I rubbed my hands together. “All in favor of returning extra body parts to their original owners – or those of us still alive, anyway.”
Not all of us had made it through Master’s Experiment Days, after all.
Everyone raised a limb, except Spec who was trying very hard to not look at anyone, particularly Squints and Toothy.
I cleared my throat.
When that produced no reaction I growled, low and deep.
“Oh, fine then.” Spec mournfully stroked the eyelids of his six extra eyes, as though he were losing them tonight.
With full bellies we snuggled in our new pillows and dreamt of our future with a fervor never before allowed.
I lay in the dark with Grunt’s arm draped over my chest and mused while I picked my teeth using the Master’s styloid process – a most useful bone. As evidenced by my own surplus of limbs, however, I knew Master didn’t exactly espouse practicality. He didn’t approve of his subjects thinking too much, either.
So what would the Master have thought of our decision? Would he rather we remained monsters and let his knowledge rot in the storage rooms of a musty abandoned castle, or would he see us as worthy inheritors to a strange but wondrous legacy?
Snort, said Grunt’s nose, followed by a high pitched Freeeeeeeeeeee.
“Good point, Grunt,” I whispered, and fluffed my pillow before slipping into my dreams, regret-free.
By Gregg Chamberlain
It was a dark and stormy night. It really was.
Black thunderclouds gathered together, turning the early evening twilight sky dark as midnight.
There was one brief, bright flash of lightning. Then came the rain. Drumming loud on the roof, and waking the Baron Esterhazy an hour before the vampire was accustomed to rise.
The baron pulled back heavy velvet drapes and looked out one of the second-floor windows of his mansion. Wind-driven rain ran down in sheets against the window pane.
“Tchah!” he tsked. “Not a fit night out even for a werewolf. Feh! Warmed-over plasma tonight then. Bah!”
Just then―bing! bong!―came the faint chime of the doorbell.
Followed right after―Bam! Bam!―by the loud banging of the heavy doorknocker.
“Now, who…?” Letting the draperies fall closed, a puzzled Baron Esterhazy descended a wide, shadowy stairway down to the foyer. The ancient hinges on an age-blackened oaken door squealed loud and long and low as the heavy portal swung open onto the outer porch. The vampire’s eyes blinked against the driving rain as he peered outside and saw―nothing?
“Hello, mister. Would you like to buy some cookies?”
A girl scout. An actual girl scout, standing on his porch, rainwater dripping down the hood of a poncho-style slicker, one hand holding up a cellophane-wrapped box.
Still confused, and now astonished, the baron’s eyes blinked as he peered down at the little curly-haired moppet. “I’m sorry, my child, what did you say?”
The girl scout sighed. The kind of sigh that came with having to be out door-to-door in the pouring rain, trying to peddle cookies just to earn a merit badge.
“Would you like to buy some cookies?” She held the box up higher. “Please?”
A thoughtful frown stole across the baron’s thin face. “This is foul weather for anyone, or anything, to be out and about. Especially for a…girl scout.”
The little girl huffed, drew herself up straight, and snapped a salute. “Troop Transylvania 6-5000. Neither rain nor gloom of night shall stop us on our assigned mission!”
“That’s the post office,” sneered the baron.
“We’re better than the post office!” the girl scout sneered back.
The vampire smiled. Attitude. He loved attitude. It was so savoury sweet. He regarded, with interest now, the girl scout standing dripping on his porch, her little gumboot-clad feet shifting in seeming nervous trepidation. Perhaps he wouldn’t have to settle for warmed-over plasma after all.
He stepped back, extending a hand in invitation. “Come inside, child, out of the cold rain.”
The girl scout’s feet stopped shifting. She shook her head vigorously, all the while keeping now wary eyes on the baron. “Huh-uh! I’m okay right here, mister. You want to buy some cookies or not? ‘Cause otherwise I gotta get going. I still got the Cryptkeeper’s and the Old Witch’s places to visit, an’ they’re a long way to walk.”
A slight sneer lifted once more the baron’s lip. “What? Not going to see Dr. Frankenstein as well?”
“That’s Mira’s route!” was the annoyed reply. “This is mine. You want some cookies or not?”
“What kind of cookies do you have?” the vampire inquired, changing tactics.
A big sigh shook the dripping poncho. “Vanilla cream. Chocolate…” ― there was a noticeable hesitation in the pause ― “…and I think, maybe, I might have one mint chocolate left. Maybe.”
“Mint chocolate?” The baron licked his lips. Even a vampire liked mint chocolate cookies. Especially for dunking in a goblet filled with warm blood, fresh or re-heated. Preferably, he thought, regarding the girl scout, fresh!
“Five euros a box.”
The baron frowned. “Five euros?”
Sigh. Cursed inflation. Even for Girl Scout cookies. “Very well. One―no, two! Two boxes. One mint chocolate, and the other chocolate, if you please.”
The girl scout gave the box of cookies in her hand a brief look, then tucked it away back under her poncho. “Nobody ever wants vanilla,” she muttered as she fumbled under the poncho, at last pulling around forward a large satchel.
The baron took a step back from the open door. “Perhaps you’d like to step inside out of the wind and the rain.”
The little blonde head snapped up, blue eyes narrowed in a suspicion-filled stare. “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen! Huh-uh! I’m fine right here, with my pepper spray.” A hand produced a small vial with a little pink-nailed thumb on the spray nozzle from beneath the poncho. “That’ll be 10 euros for two boxes.”
The baron’s compressed in a tight-lipped smile. His incisors were starting to ache. “Fine,” he snarled. “Ten euros. Wait here while I go find some change.”
The vampire spun about on a heel and stalked away, back towards the staircase. He stomped up each step, muttering a curse with every riser ascended about arrogant, annoying, antagonizing, aggravating, argumentative, and awful little moppets and their sinfully sweet seductive girl scout cookies over-priced, over-rated, over-hyped and over there!
“Euros, euros,” he muttered, storming into a room that, in life, had served as the baron’s study. He slammed open the dusty roll-top cover of the desk, raising as he did so a choking cloud of dust heavy enough to give even a vampire a coughing fit. Dry eyes itching, nostrils twitching in an almost-forgotten need to sneeze, the baron opened desk drawers one by one, pawing through each of them in a vain search for loose change.
He found all kinds of change. Kroners, pfennigs, francs, lira, even a few vintage silver talers, tarnished black with age. But no euros.
Questing fingers slid across the yellowed pages of an old Bank of Transylvania chequebook. Maybe the cursed little brat would accept a personal cheque? “She’d better,” growled the vampire to himself, fangs now extended, “or it’s no more Mr. Nice Baron!”
The vampire hastened back to the grand stairway. “I fear, my child,” he called down as he ran, “I’ve no euros available, but if you could take a cheque―wha― !”
The baron felt his ankles catch against something narrow and strong at the top of the stairs. Felt himself topple forward, chequebook in one outstretched hand, the other half-raised to catch hold of the stair railing.
Thump. Thump. Thump. The baron must have hit his head on every second or third step during his long rolling tumble down the stairs.
Crack! He stopped falling down the stairs when his head whacked the very hard, very firm, very solid newel post at the bottom.
The baron lay there on the floor of the foyer, stunned, staring up at the ceiling.
And at the sharp point of a stake coming down to rest on his chest. Held in place by two small hands belonging to… a girl scout?
Not the one he’d last seen at the door. This one had short brown hair. He saw his blonde-haired girl scout and another―she had raven-black hair, he noted―raising a large mallet together in their four little arms. The last thing he saw was the mallet swinging dow―
“There! That oughta pass muster!” A smiling Anya pushed a damp blonde curl back from her forehead before turning around the mini digicam in her hands so her two fellow girl scouts could see the flip-out viewscreen. They watched tiny versions of themselves staking the Baron Esterhazy, followed by a close-up of the vampire’s body through its rapid decay until only a skull was left behind, grinning, with slightly elongated incisors, up at the camera lens.
“That’s sure to earn us our Van Helsing badges.”
With satisfied smiles Anya and raven-haired Mira collected and packed away the mallet while little Tirce, her short brown hair bouncing with each step, ran upstairs to unfasten and roll up the tripwire stretched across the top of the staircase. Then, together, Mira and Tirce held down the skeleton while Anya detached the skull, stuffed a clove of garlic and a communion wafer between its jaws, and set it to one side. They took a moment for several last photographs, at various angles, of the scene of the Baron Esterhazy’s final rest.
The rain had stopped by the time the trio left the Esterhazy mansion. The sky was still dark but a few stars peeped out now and again through breaks in the cloud cover. One of the girls produced an electric torch from beneath her poncho and snapped it on.
“So, now what do we do?” asked Tirce.
Mira looked thoughtful. “My uncle Yuri’s a veterinarian. I bet I could get some of the tranquilizers he uses to put horses and bulls to sleep.”
Tirce’s eyes grew wide. “Oh! And my dad’s a butcher. Lots of meat scraps and blood. We could mix it all into balls with some peanut butter.”
“Y’know,” Anya said slowly, “my aunt Elizaveta works at a jewelry store. Lots of silver necklace chains there.”
The three little girl scouts looked at each other. Then they all smiled, tipped back their heads, and howled in chorus at the moon as it broke through the clouds.
About the Authors
Dantzel Cherry teaches pilates and raises her daughter by day. By night and naptime, she writes. Her baking hours follow no rhyme or reason. Her short stories have appeared in Fireside, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, and other magazine and anthologies including here at Cast of Wonders.
Gregg Chamberlain lives in rural Eastern Ontario near the Canadian capital of Ottawa. He and his missus, Anne, share their home with a clowder of cats who allow the humans to believe that they are in charge. He has been a wordsmith for more than four decades, most of that spent as a full-time community newspaper reporter in Ontario and in British Columbia, his original home province. He looks forward to retiring soon to the Maritimes where he can continue writing speculative fiction and zombie filk, which includes recent works for Weirdbook magazine and for the Bard’s Song Vol. 1 anthology from Sinister Grin Press.
About the Narrators
Dani Daly is a former assistant editor of Cast of Wonders, and narrating stories is just one of the things she loves to do. She’s a retired roller derby player and current small batch soap maker, for instance. Soaps and balms from StoryTime Soap Company are crafted while listening to audio fiction of all sorts. She rants on twitter as @danooli_dani, if that’s your thing. Or you can visit the EA forums, where she moderates the Cast of Wonders boards.
Marguerite Kenner (she/her) is a California transplant living in the UK city named after her favorite pastime.
She runs Escape Artists with her partner Alasdair Stuart, and practices as a technology lawyer in London. She loves to voice minor characters in podcasts and play video games, often where people can watch.
Her contributions to genre fiction include being a 2021 Hugo Award Finalist, editing Cast of Wonders from 2013 to 2019, project groups for too many industry orgs to count anymore, community organising, mentoring, and teaching business skills to creatives.
You can follow her adventures across various social media platforms.
Dave Thompson is a pretty awesome guy, even if he disparages pumpkin beer. He lives outside Los Angeles with his wife and three children. Together with co-editor Anna Schwind, he ran PodCastle for five amazing years, stepping down to focus on his own writing in 2015. You can find two of his audiobook narrations on Amazon: Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhout and Briarpatch by Tim Pratt.
Dave is an Escape Artists’ Worldwalker and Storyteller, having been published in, and narrated for, all four EA podcasts.
Cheyenne Wright is a wizard that can turn into a dragon, or a dragon posing as a wizard. He forgets which. Either way, He makes comics, Art for games, and HU-mans can contribute to his hoard via patreon.com/docarcane.
He narrates short stories for a variety of venues where he is known as Podcasting’s Mr. Buttery ManVoice, and is an EA Storyteller.
Katherine Inskip is the editor for Cast of Wonders. She teaches astrophysics for a living and spends her spare time populating the universe with worlds of her own. You can find more of her stories and poems at Motherboard, the Dunesteef, Luna Station Quarterly, Abyss & Apex and Polu Texni.