An essay by Dr. Constanza Vivette as provided by Sylvia Cullinan
Art provided by Justine McGreevy
Never underestimate the value of a good lackey–or the scheme-destroying potential of an incompetent one.
Perhaps Hairy Joe’s willingness to adopt such a misleading moniker should have been my first clue that the man was as inept as a one-legged unicorn wielding a chainsaw–our correspondence had prepared me for a hulking ape of a man, not the slight, ragged, and embarrassingly hairless gentleman whose sopping-wet clothes left a trail of water on my nice hardwood floor as I led him into the heart of my lair. Nor had I expected the incessant chatter that spewed forth from the man’s fleshy pink lips.
“A bit stormy tonight, eh?”
I shot him one of my best withering looks, well-perfected after hours of intensive training, and carried on towards the dungeon. “Your job, Misleadingly-Hairless Joe, will be to serve as my replacement laboratory assistant until Gretchen starts returning my calls again and comes back to work. I’m currently working on …”
“What happened to Gretchen?” Joe’s voice contained a note of suspicion–a bad sign. My professors at the University had squabbled over every facet of the malicious sciences, and disagreed about every idea but for one–that a good henchman was as loyal as he was silent. My new friend, I feared, lacked both of these salient qualities.
“She had a personal issue.” I wasn’t ready to open up to Joe about the anguish I’d experienced when Gretchen had lost a few layers of skin to the pore-sealing serum we’d been concocting and stormed out of my lair in rage. I hadn’t had a good afternoon snack since she’d left–the hussy had gone so far as to steal the last of the snickerdoodles on her way out. It was a grievous sin, indeed, but the longer I spent in the presence of Hairy Joe, the more eager to forgive my heart grew.
“Regardless, that is quite beside the point,” I said. “Gretchen shall return, and then you, sir, will be jobless once more. But perhaps by then your hair will have regrown, and you can once again sell it to the gypsy lady in town for wig-making–that is where it went, correct?”
Hairy Joe shook his head. “Nope! It’s a genetic disorder. Why, my Pa was so bald that when he came outta the womb …”
I raised a hand to silence him. “Enough! Enough of your disgusting personal history!” I withheld a sigh as Hairy Joe and I entered my laboratory. “This conversation has gotten quite out of hand. Let’s return to more important matters, shall we? I’ve been working on …”
Naturally, Joe ignored me yet again. He made a beeline for the massive sarcophagus sitting on the metal table in the center of the room. “Christ, lady, how’d you get one a these bad boys? I wanted a mummy like this ever since I was a kid–I was crazy about ‘Gyptian stuff … used to go to every movin’ picture with a pyramid on the poster …”
He went in to lay his grubby hands on my priceless artifact, but I leapt before him just in time to protect the final resting place of Princess Khumit. His hands landed squarely on my breasts, then hurriedly struggled to locate themselves anywhere else. “If you could, avoid touching things that are not yours, please,” I said. “Hands and feet to yourselves, you know the drill. You’ve been to kindergarten, haven’t you?”
Joe’s entire head had transformed into an angry shade of crimson–it looked not unlike Gretchen’s face after she’d foolishly smeared it with our beauty serum before thorough testing. “I … ah, I …” He waved his hands around like an avant-garde conductor before slamming them deep into the pockets of his overalls.
“Good fellow. Now, as I was saying, I’ve been working on … this.” I turned back to the ornate sarcophagus, which had been designed to mimic Princess Khumit’s appearance in life. I swung the coffin open, so that Hairy Joe might enjoy her appearance in death.
Joe’s flushed face went white instantaneously as his beady eyes took in the lovely princess. Perhaps her once-dewy cheeks had become a bit parched, and a bit of rouge would have gone a long way towards brightening her up–but on the whole, she was remarkably well-preserved for a three thousand year old woman. At least, she’d held up quite a bit better than the corpses Gretchen had unearthed from the local cemetery for me, prior to her untimely departure–and those had been weeks, not millennia, old.
“Quite a beauty, isn’t she, Joe? Do you think you’re up for it, then?”
Joe looked a wee bit queasier than I’d expected as he lifted his eyes from the princess to meet mine. “Up for what, exactly, ma’am?”
“Mummification, of course!” I beamed at him. If the competitive pay and luxurious in-lair housing I’d offered him hadn’t convinced him to take the job, I was certain that the benefits would clinch it.
“Lady,” replied Joe, his voice devoid of any emotion I could describe as “eager.” “You have lost your damn mind.”
And that, good readers, is how incompetent employees got me into a bit of a bind.
Since Hairy Joe lacked the fortitude to take on the assignment, and Gretchen had blocked my number, I was left with the regrettable task of playing guinea pig myself. After a long soak in an invigorating bath of embalming fluids, I climbed upon a step-stool and flung my arms wide. “Wrap me,” I commanded.
Hairy Joe, despite his reservations, began to wind the long white bandages around my limbs. As he made his way up from my legs to my torso, he began to get rather too familiar.
“Now tell me again why you wanna be a mummy?” he asked as he tucked the end of the first roll of bandages in at my waist and started in with the second.
“It’s hardly your business,” I sneered, but as I was entrusting Hairy Joe with all of the finer points of the experiment, I decided it would be prudent to disclose the unique circumstances that had led me to this moment in my life. “I wish to please a man.”
Hairy Joe stopped what he was doing and stared at me with the look of shock that I would have expected had I informed him that my grandmother was a magenta field mouse, rather than that I was looking for love. “You think this,” he said, gesturing at my half-wrapped body, “is gonna win you a man? I don’t know what you learned at that school of yours, or what kinda men you want to take your panties off, but let me tell you–you don’t want no man who wants a lady who just took a swim in a pool of formaldehyde. Where I come from, we got a word for that sorta thing–necrophilia.”
“Oh, Joe, you’re positively rustic. I don’t want to seduce him. I want to destroy him. And stop just standing there with your mouth hung open–it isn’t pretty, and it certainly doesn’t get those bandages on me any faster.”
Hairy Joe returned to his work, a bewildered look still plastered upon his simple face. “I thought you said you were looking to please this fellow. Now you tell me you want to destroy him. You’re a mighty complicated woman, Dr. Vivette.” He shook his head the way old men do when they read the sports section the day after their team has sustained a season-killing loss.
“While I won’t deny my own complexity, it isn’t nearly as difficult a situation as you’re making it out to be. Haven’t you ever wanted to destroy somebody? One of those girls who didn’t want a bald boyfriend, perhaps, or your basketball coach when he made you sit on the bench and watch your taller, fitter, more attractive teammates play?”
Joe scowled. “I just had poor spatial reasoning–it was no reason to sit a twelve-year-old on the sidelines all year!”
“Now how would you feel if you could march right up to that coach, only having grown half a foot and acquired the agility and coordination of a particularly dexterous gazelle? If you could present him with a player who could transform his career as a middle-school basketball coach, the player of his dreams–then yank it all away when you flashed your contract with the Knicks in front of his face?”
A dreamy look danced in Joe’s eyes as he finished bandaging my arms. “Well, I figure I’d feel mighty good about myself just then.”
I smiled. “And that is why Renaldo is coming to dinner tonight. Now bind up my face–I need my beauty sleep before he arrives.”
Any wicked scientist worth his salt could already identify the fatal flaw in my plan–therefore, I do not doubt that my esteemed readers have noticed the distinct lack of testing prior to the grand debut of my evil scheme. Alas, I must admit that my grief in losing Gretchen, and the thrill of impending revenge, inhibited my decision making abilities. Or perhaps it was the chemicals I had inhaled during the mummification process.
Regardless, I blame Hairy Joe.
At precisely seven o’clock, the tremendous clang of the brass door-knocker and the creaking of the front door opening woke me from my slumber. Renaldo had arrived.
Eager to greet my oblivious dinner guest, I rolled off my bed and made my way over to the wardrobe–a tricky task when one’s legs are bound tightly together, but I walked with the tiny steps most befitting an elegant mummified lady and arrived before the wardrobe in less than ten minutes. Selecting an outfit proved more complicated, as through the gauze which covered my eyes, I could see but a world composed of fuzzy shapes and muted colors.
I decided to utilize the services of my hapless henchman.
A full five minutes after I’d rung for him, Hairy Joe–or at least, a Hairy Joe-shaped being–appeared in my bedchambers “You didn’t tell me that Renaldo feller was a vampire,” he groaned, panting from the exhausting task of climbing a single flight of stairs. I pondered the potential benefits of implementing a mandatory exercise program for my associates–a lazy lackey would do little to advance my career.
“Were you expecting a werewolf?” I asked. “Everyone knows they’ve all gone into hiding since the President legalized the fur trade in the States. And that’s beside the point. Help me dress.”
Joe stared at the collection of dresses stuffed into the wardrobe as if he expected the proper one to fly into his hand of its own will.
“Renaldo is waiting! Hurry, pick me out something … sensual.”
Joe grabbed a dress at random and began to tug it over my head. It seemed to be rather pink and frilly–perhaps not my first choice, but I had little time to waste quibbling over outfits. With Joe’s assistance, I gingerly slid my individually-bound arms through the appropriate openings without tearing the bandages, then commanded my lackey to zip me up. “How do I look?”
“A bit … well, like a princess, Doctor.” I could see the blur of his egg-shaped head nodding rapidly.
“Well, I suppose that shall have to do. Now carry me to my date.”
Hairy Joe swept me up into his arms and, to his credit, teetered only occasionally as he made the trek to the dining room whilst holding a woman half a foot taller than himself. He deposited me gently and swung open the door.
“My lady!” cried Renaldo, who was seated at the head of the table, his back to the door. “It has been so long since I have looked upon your stunning face!” The stately vampire rose from his seat and turned to greet his dinner date.
“Hello, Renaldo,” I purred. “Happy to see me?”
His bloodless face grew even paler. “Con-Constanza,” he stuttered. “You’ve … adopted a new style, I see.”
“Are you not impressed?” I attempted to perform a pirouette for his amusement–luckily Hairy Joe was still at my side and managed to catch me before I toppled to the ground.
“I don’t think your plan is working out like you thought, Doctor,” he whispered in my ear as he returned me to an upright position.
“Shut up,” I hissed before returning my attention to the regal vampire before me. While other vampires had caved in to local pressure and adopted more modern styles of dress, Renaldo had never had time for such tomfoolery–he still wore the same yellowed, blood-stained doublet in which he had traded his life as a man for an eternity of bloodsucking.
I considered following his tradition and making this outfit my last, now that I was well on my way towards preserving my good looks forever, but decided that while my lacy pink party dress might do for tonight, it was hardly a look one could call “timeless.”
“Remember that night,” I began, “when you rejected me? When you wept for my lack of immortality–when you said you could never expose your heart to the pain of loss which comes with loving a mortal, already so rapidly approaching her expiration date?”
Renaldo nodded slowly.
“Well, I have corrected that flaw.” I wondered if he could see my winning smile beneath the gauze. “Just as the ancient Egyptians preserved the bodies of their dead, so I am preserving myself!” The bandage covering my forehead had begun to droop–I hastily smoothed it out, hoping that I only appeared to be rubbing an itch. “My beauty shall be immortal!”
Hairy Joe, who clearly never received much training in etiquette and had remained at my side despite the obviously personal nature of this meeting, looked at me in shock. “I don’t think it works like …”
“Hush, you fool!”
“No, Constanza,” said Renaldo. “I think your little friend may have a point. Wrapping yourself in bandages will not sustain your life.”
Hairy Joe looked like he wasn’t sure if he should be annoyed by the jab at his height, or pleased to have the support of such a refined vampire in this matter.
“Oh, I’ll be dead to be sure–but I shall never have to leave your side, my love.” I waited eagerly to receive his declaration of undying devotion in return. Within a few minutes, I’d be wiping up the shattered remains of his heart with these pesky bandages–they’d begun to itch rather a lot, and I was becoming anxious to destroy Renaldo and be done with them for good. I couldn’t resist viewing the vampire’s simpering face as he confessed his love, so I ripped away the bandages obscuring my view.
Instead of the moon-eyed gaze of devotion I’d been expecting, I saw an undead man trembling in mortal terror. His saucer-sized eyes darted from me to Hairy Joe, who promptly ceased the wild gestures he’d been making in the direction of the front door when he realized I could see him.
Suddenly I felt something dripping down my face. I brushed my hand against my cheek, only to realize that the strange concoction of chemicals I’d used to preserve my youthful allure had caused my skin to break out into pus-oozing boils.
I began to wipe the gushing goo from my face with a bandaged hand. “I don’t suppose your heart is mine for the crushing now, is it?”
I’d not realized the incredible velocity vampires could achieve prior to that moment. Renaldo fled the lair as if it were the sun itself.
“Where did I go wrong?” I later asked Joe as we dined upon the feast that had been meant for Renaldo and myself. I checked the contents of the tureen beside me–fresh lamb’s blood. I passed this dish over in favor of the minestrone.
“Well, no offense meant, Dr. Vivette,” said Hairy Joe as he buttered his bread. “But most men just don’t want to carry a dead lady around with them for all of eternity. You wouldn’t exactly be a lively partner, if you know what I’m getting at.”
I considered mentioning the deviant practice that Joe had suggested earlier, but decided that it was perhaps not what my mother would call “appropriate dinner conversation.”
The results of my experiment have demonstrated not only the importance of vigorous testing prior to implementing radical new techniques in diabolic schemes, but also that of hiring good help–help that doesn’t let you embalm yourself then play the fool in front of sophisticated vampire gentlemen whilst covered in boils.
I am still awaiting Gretchen’s call.
Dr. Constanza Vivette received her doctorate in experimental biology from the Academy of the Malovent Arts & Scienes in 1992. Since then, she has published a number of papers documenting her experiments, including her Hershowitz Prize-winning article, “The Diabolic Utility of Domestic Felines.” She currently resides in a spacious lair in the Swiss Alps where she lives with her wretched henchman, Hairless Joe, and a clowder of tricloptic cats.
Sylvia Cullinan likes writing stories about giant mantises, virgin sacrifices, and, occasionally, mummies. She also likes making friends rather a lot, so follow her on Twitter @SylviaCullinan if you enjoy reading about bizarre creatures, discussing speculative fiction, or viewing pictures of the writer’s cat.
Justine McGreevy is a slowly recovering perfectionist, writer, and artist. She creates realities to make our own seem slightly less terrifying. Her work can be viewed at http://www.behance.net/Fickle_Muse and you can follow her on Twitter @Fickle_Muse.