The cowboy stepped down from his horse, shot seven desperadoes dead with his six-shooter, then grabbed a beautiful, wide-eyed prairie woman in an ankle length dress and kissed her, passionately.
All this, of course, happened on the television, which had been wheeled back into the living room. The Lumpkisses sat in the dark, enjoying their cherry cobbler while watching an old, black and white movie. Phil on the couch, Indian style, between Larry and Lorraine, while Pop snoozed in a recliner. Whitney took to the floor, as kids often do when there isn’t another seat available.
“This is the best part,” Phil said.
At this point, it should be noted that the cowboy bore a striking resemblance to one Phil Fitzpatrick.
“Will you ever get back round these parts again, Marshall?” the prairie woman asked.
Phil’s eyes were lost in the television’s flickering glow as he mouthed the response. “Don’t worry, little lady, there will always be another….”
The on-screen cowboy gazed into the prairie woman’s eyes. “Don’t worry, little lady. There will always be another train to Kalamazoo.”
Rousing orchestra music played. An announcer spoke over the credits. “Thank you for watching, the 1938 classic, ‘The Train to Kalamazoo’ starring Jack Brandywine and Lorna Hutton. Next up on our Jack Brandywine retrospective is the 1942 monster flick, The Werewolf Unravels the Mummy. A fun fact, Brandywine was originally offered the role of the Mummy, but his agent, Artie Bradshaw, refused to allow his client to take a role where his face would be covered.”
Larry didn’t skip a beat. “Would’ve been an improvement.”
“Hush, Lumpkiss,” Phil said.
“I thought vampires couldn’t be photographed,” Whitney said.
“In still photos, no,” Phil said. “You can’t snap a pic of a vampire or a demon and expect it to come out. Movies are a different story, however, and don’t ask me to explain it. I’ve yet to figure it out. All I know is I always made sure to call in sick whenever it was publicity head shot day.”
Phil watched the credits roll. “God, I miss being Jack Brandywine. Out of all my past lives, his was my favorite.”
“Did you get to know Lorna Hutton?” Whitney asked.
“Get to know her?” Phil said. “I married her.”
“Get out!” Whitney said.
“I’ll get in,” Phil said. “Oh, the Golden Age of Hollywood. The bright lights. The big city. Fame. Fortune. Shopping on Rodeo Drive. Dining at the Brown Derby. Well, pretending to eat and then spitting my chewed-up food into my napkin at the Brown Derby, anyway. What those waiters must have thought of me when they unraveled that mess. I won an award for The Train to Kalamazoo you know.”
“We know,” Lorraine said.
“You’ve told us six times,” Larry said.
“The best part is I did it all on my own,” Phil said.
Larry choked on his cobbler. “You did not do it all on your own, Phil.”
“I did so,” Phil said. “I took a bus out to California. I didn’t know a single soul there. I knocked on doors. I went to auditions. I was discovered and the rest, as they say, is history.”
“You were alive for three thousand years,” Phil said. “Being a Roman senator and a poet and an orator and all that mumbo jumbo. You had way more time to practice your public speaking skills than the average human and that’s why you made it.”
“Or maybe I would have made it anyway because I’m so naturally gifted,” Phil said. “We may never know.”
“We know,” Larry said. “You violated the Treaty of Stuttgart by becoming an actor. You know it.”
“Oh, Stuttgart, Schmuttgart,” Phil said. “A fella’s got to learn a living, doesn’t he? I’m the best insurance claims adjustor in my entire division at work because I’ve had thousands of years to learn how to add up figures but I don’t hear you flapping your gums about how I shouldn’t be an insurance claims adjuster.”
“There are gray areas to the Treaty, I suppose,” Larry said. “Still, you unjustly enriched yourself when you were Jack Brandywine. Plus, Errol Flynn was way better.”
“Please,” Phil said. “Errol Flynn can kiss my pale undead ass.”
“Mr. Fitzpatrick,” Whitney said. “If you don’t like being an insurance claims adjuster in Seacaucus, why don’t you just move back to Hollywood and become an actor again?”
“I tried,” Phil said. “I landed an agent, got a few auditions, got some buzz, and then Lorna slapped me with an injunction.”
“Your own wife sued you?” Whitney asked.
“Technically, she’s not my wife anymore,” Phil said. “She was married to Jack Brandywine and he was presumed dead after his yacht was blown to kingdom come on the way to Catalina Island thanks to a poorly installed propane tank.”
“But,” Whitney said. “Couldn’t you have just told her you were leaving?”
“Couldn’t,” Phil said. “Treaty of…”
“…Stuttgart,” Whitney said. “I got it.”
“Supernaturals aren’t even supposed to reveal themselves to their human loves,” Phil said. “In this case, the Treaty made my life better. It’s so much easier to just fake your own death than it is to look someone who devoted their life to you in the eye and tell them you can’t be with them anymore. Given their druthers, I think most people would rather fake their own deaths in a tragic yacht explosion than say goodbye to a love.”
“People are weird,” Whitney said.
“They sure are,” Phil replied. “Anyway, when the old gal heard there was a young, up and comer in town who looked just like her dearly departed husband, she wasn’t having any of it. She owned his estate and Jack’s likeness was a tangible piece of intellectual property so I was left without a leg to stand on. Maybe after she croaks I can give it another try, though I imagine my miserable, spoiled rotten children will put the kibosh on it.”
“What?” Larry asked.
“I thought vampires couldn’t have children,” Lorraine said.
“We can adopt,” Larry said. “And Lorna was fine with that because she didn’t want to ruin her figure but man, take a couple of urchins out of the orphanage, give them a taste of the sweet life and they’ll hang onto it like there’s no tomorrow. Not a single brain cell between the two of them, but boy can they ever hold onto a buck. I can only hope that my grandchildren will be the kind of losers who would be willing to sign over inter-generational intellectual property rights in exchange for some beaded bracelets.”
The Lumpkiss family went quiet.
“That’s how the Dutch got Manhattan,” Phil said. “I should know because…”
“You were there,” Lorraine said. “We know.”
Phil looked at the clock and yawned. “Oh, I’m going to be a bear at work tomorrow. Up so late and I have to get up early to wash this mess off my face.”
“Why do you wear even wear all that beauty crap?” Larry asked. “You don’t age.”
“I have to keep up appearances, don’t I?” Phil said. “Twenty years from now, when everyone starts asking why I don’t look like a shriveled up old prune like all of the rest of the people I’ve come to know and love in Seacaucus, I’ll be able to say it’s due to my allegiance to a grueling beauty regimen, and people will believe it because I make sure to go outside with my beauty mask on, once in a while.”
“It’s an improvement,” Larry said.
“Oh, what do you know, Lumpkiss?” Phil said as the next movie began. Jack Brandywine lumbered onto the screen with clumps of hair glued to his face. Phil gave an impromptu performance, right there on the couch. “Where is that mummy?! I shall…”
Werewolf Jack said it on screen. “Where is that mummy?! I shall unravel him!”
“Ha!” Phil said as he looked to Whitney. “I’m a better werewolf than your father.”
Larry shook his head in disgust. “Alright, Phil, I think it’s time for you to go.”
“Wait,” Phil said. “Lumpkiss, why don’t you grab that fun little pop-up book of yours?”
“The History of the Treaty of Stuttgart: Children’s Pop-Up Edition?”
“That’s the one,” Phil said.
“No!” Whitney said. “I hate that! It’s so boring!”
“I think your father’s right, Little Lumpkiss,” Phil said. “Young supernaturals need the history of their ancestors drilled into them if there’s any hope that they won’t repeat it. Plus, I have such a hard time sleeping ever since Gladys left. I really thought she’d be the one but serves me right for promising to be with someone forever when both of us are actually able to be around forever. I’ll never date another vampire for as long as I don’t live. Humans only for me from here on.”
“Can you all make up your minds?” Whitney said. “I thought you said we should all stick to our own kind.”
“Do as I say, not as I do, kid,” Phil said. “Go fetch your book, Larry.”
Larry loved lecturing his children with the help of the well dog-eared pages of his copy of The History of the Treaty of Stuttgart: Children’s Pop-Up Edition. He moved with a swiftness that was atypical of a man of his girth, retrieved the book from his den, and re-emerged into the living room, holding up the book in triumph. He switched on the lights, which caused Pop to stir.
The old man sat up. “Huh?” He looked around, realized he was still alive, said, “Meh,” then fell back asleep.
Larry returned to his spot on the couch and laid the book flat on the coffee table.
“I love this book,” Larry said.
“We know,” Lorraine said.
Whitney moved closer and begrudgingly looked on from the floor while the remaining adults who were awake watched. Larry opened the book. “The History of the Treaty of the Stuttgart: Children’s Edition,” Larry read. “Supernatural Publishing Company, Limited. Copyright 1959. All rights reserved.”
“Wait,” Whitney said. “Supernaturals can’t reveal their true selves to humans but they can have their own publishing company?”
“There’s all kinds of businesses that cater to supernaturals that hide in plain sight,” Larry said.
“But they published a book about something humans aren’t supposed to know about,” Whitney said.
“That’s easy enough,” Larry said. “If a human ever sees a book like this lying around, they’ll automatically assume it’s fiction.”
Phil offered an observation. “Dracula is actually a biography. Bram Stoker wasn’t even trying to write fiction. He was a vampire himself, but you didn’t hear that from me.”
Larry turned a page. A scene popped up, featuring humans smiling amidst werewolves, vampires, demons, trolls, ogres, and goblins, all of whom were also smiling. The man of the house read: “Today, it is assumed that all supernatural beings come straight from hell, but nothing could be further from the truth. Up until 980 years ago, humans and supernaturals lived together in relative peace and harmony, finding compromise on important civic matters and engaging in fair, honest trade.”
Whitney feigned a yawn. “Boring.”
“Silence, hippy,” Larry said as he turned the page. A demon popped up. He was tall, with red horns and hooves for feet. His teeth were sharp, his eyes were read and his entire body was consumed by flickering flames. “But then came Baal, the schemer. He was the only son of the Dark Lord and as such, was the Prince of Hell, but his father, paranoid as he was, feared that one day his son would one day rise up and take his throne, banished his offspring to live out the remainder of his immortal life on earth – a place he didn’t find to be very enjoyable at all.”
“Who’s the Dark Lord?” Whitney asked. “Is that Sa…”
Lorraine pressed a finger to her lips. “Shh!”
“We try not to use his name too much,” Larry said.
“Invoke the name of the Dark Lord too many times and he might just show up,” Phil noted.
Larry turned the page. He pulled on paper tab that made the demon Baal disappear into the book and pushed up on another tab that made a troll appear. “Baal was, among other things, a shapeshifter, capable of taking the form of whoever he so desired. Of all his magical abilities, this was the one he loved the most, for it allowed him to become a trickster.
Next page. The troll whispered into the ear of a large, cross-eyed ogre. In the background, there were werewolves, vampires, demons, and goblins, all whispering into each other’s ears.
“Out of sheer boredom,” Larry read. “Baal wandered the countryside, taking the forms of the most beloved and trusted creatures in all of supernaturaldom. He whispered lies into the ears of the supernaturals, telling them that humans were not their friends at all but in fact, humans despised supernaturals, plotted against them, and lived to keep supernaturals from ever having happiness of their own. All of their problems, Baal said, were entirely the cause of man, and wouldn’t it be great if man were gone?”
Another page. Now, Baal was in the form of a human. “Baal used this same strategy on the humans, taking the form of the most beloved and trusted people in all of humanity. He whispered lies into the ears of the humans, telling that that supernaturals were not their friends at all but in fact, supernaturals despised humans, plotted against them, and lived to keep supernaturals from ever having happiness off their own. All of their problems, Baal said, were entirely the cause of supernaturals, and wouldn’t it be great if supernaturals were gone?”
A new page. This time, there was a human and a troll. Larry worked a couple of paper pull tabs that made the human and troll club each other. “Ah, that’s good fun. What to work the clubs, Whit?”
Whitney replied with half a smile. “No thanks.”
“Suit yourself,” Larry said before he read on. “Soon enough, the seeds of turmoil that Baal had planted bore fruit, as humans and supernaturals were at each other’s throats, blaming one another for their own personal miseries, no one ever taking stock of what they themselves could do to improve their lots in life, or better yet, how they could all help each other.”
Larry paused. “Huh. Sounds like they’d all vote for Jimmy Carter.”
“Don’t interject politics into your little pop-up book, dear,” Lorraine said.
“Right,” Larry said. “Moving on.” Larry kept reading. “Chaos and calamity ensued for many centuries. Supernaturals attacked humans. Humans attacked supernaturals. Atrocities were committed against and by both sides and as both sides grew to truly hate each other, both insisted that the other had started the entire debacle in the first place.”
Page turn. Three armored clad nights popped up. They had long hair and carried shields emblazoned with Christian crosses. “One human, Sir Godfrey of Stratford-upon-Avon-and-just-to-the-left-of-Trotterdam, publicly declared all supernaturals to be a menace, and that if one more supernatural were to ever so much as touch a hair on the head of a human ever again, he’d call upon his loyal bannermen, Sir Reginald of Sheffield-upon-Stively-but-not-the-Stively-you’re-thinking-of-you-know-the-one-near-Southhampton-but-rather-the-lesser-known-Stively-to-the-left-of-Durham and Sir Alistair of Coventry-upon-Newport-take-a-left-I-said-left-at-Colchester-but-if-you-pass-Leeds-you’ve-gone-too-far, to raise an Army of the strongest human warriors in all of Europe who would rid the world of what they perceived to be the supernatural menace once and for all.”
“British towns have long names,” Whitney said.
“Never live in Britain, Little Lumpkiss,” Phil said. “You’ll spend half your life addressing postcards. I get writer’s cramp just thinking of the time I spent there.”
Larry worked the tabs, making the knights’ swords to move up and down, then turned the page. There appeared a werewolf wearing a medieval tunic, standing behind a bar. Larry worked a tab that made the wolf’s paw raise a glass of ale up and down.
“Ha!” Larry said. “I always get a kick out of this thing.”
“It shows, Lumpkiss,” Phil said.
“In the French town of Avignon, Archimedes was considered to be the wisest among all the local supernaturals. In his youth, he had fought alongside humans in many wars, and had saved many of their lives on the field of battle. But when he got older, he hanged up his sword and became the proprietor of Ye Olde Barkhouse, a tavern where humans and supernaturals had once gathered but alas, only supernaturals came after Baal’s malicious whisper campaign took root.”
Page turn. Archimedes stood behind the bar, listening to an Ogre speak. Larry yanked a tab that made the Ogre’s mouth pop open and shut. “As times grew desperate, more and more supernaturals came to the tavern to seek Archimedes’ advice, and to tell their tales of woe. One such fellow was Masduplefax the One Who Smelled Like Mold Infested Horse Manure…”
Whitney required more information. “His name was what?”
“Ogreology,” Phil said. “The ancient religion of the ogres required their kind to not only take pride in their smells, but to include the substance they smelled like in their formal names. Most ogres today are reform ogreologists who have dropped the custom completely, though orthodox ogreologists continue to stick with it.”
“Ah,” Whitney said.
Larry read on. “’Twice this month the humans have raided my farm, burnt my crops to ash, stolen my horses, decapitated my chickens and had their way with my many ogre wives. I admit, I am partially to blame, as I absent mindedly left my step ladder unsecured, and this allowed the human males to access the private areas of my many ogre wives but still, do we want to live in a world where you can’t leave your step ladder out for fear that the private areas of your numerous ogre wives might be violated?”
Lorraine perked up. “Are we sure this is a children’s book?”
“Says so in the title,” Larry said.
“We can’t sugarcoat history, Lady Lumpkiss,” Phil said. “Even for children. Carry on, Lawrence.”
“Carrying on,” Larry said. Page turn. Now Larry was able to work the mouth of Archimedes. “As the night wore on, more supernaturals told Archimedes their tales of woe and mistreatment at the hands of the humans. But Archimedes remained firm in his resolve that peace between humans and supernaturals was possible. ‘Good creatures,’ Archimedes said. ‘I know times are hard and many humans have lost their way. I would be remiss if I did not say that many supernaturals have also caused pain and suffering to the humans. However, there are many good and decent humans who would never harm a supernatural. Should all humans be judged by the character of the worst among them? Would you want to be judged by the worst among us?’”
A new page. Larry worked the mouths of a vampire, a goblin and a troll, one right after the other. “’You’re right, Archimedes! I like the cut of your jib!’ said a vampire. ‘I was ready to stab all the humans in my path in the eye with a rusty fork but now I’ve changed my mind, thanks to your inspirational words, Archimedes! I’m a better goblin for having met you!’ said the goblin. ‘You’re right, Archimedes,’ said the troll. ‘My brother-in-law is a real jerk and I wouldn’t want people thinking badly of me just because he is a thief of ladies’ undergarments.’”
“It does not say that,” Lorraine protested, only for Larry to show her the part where the book indeed said just that.
“Huh,” Lorraine said. “I guess I never paid much attention to our past family readings. I never noticed some of the underlying creepy stuff. Couldn’t the troll have called his brother-in-law a jerk and left it at that?”
“History is messy,” Phil said. “Whitewash it at your own peril.”
Next page. A family of werewolves, including a mother werewolf in her bonnet and six cubs, slept in one great big long bed.
“Aww,” Whitney said.
“As Archimedes tended bar,” Larry read, “His wife, Genevieve, and his six cubs, Jacques, Gustav, Marcel, Dominique, Nadine and Cecilia slept snugly in their warm bed, oblivious to all the dangers of the world that lurked in the night.”
Page turn. Mother and cubs were still in bed, but now there was an angry looking, brooding man holding an axe high up over his head.
“Ack!” Whitney screeched.
“What?” Larry asked. “You’ve seen this before.”
“I know,” Whitney said. “And it gets me every time.”
“Alas,” Larry read. “Baal didn’t appreciate Archimedes’ attempts to bring humans and supernaturals together. So, he took the form of Sebastian Fontaine, father of Francois Fontaine, a local shepherd. As Sebastian, Baal told Francois that while he was out in the field, putting in long hours under the hot sun telling his sheep where to go, his wife was being vigorously rogered in all of her available orifices by Archimedes, and in doing so, had made a joke of the family name, for now, whenever a human walked into his house only to see his wife being rogered by a werewolf, he was said to have been Fontained.”
Lorrained had a question. “Shouldn’t it be Archimedied, since Archimedes was the one who was falsely accused of rogering?”
“You’d think so,” Larry said.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to how these expressions get started,” Phil said.
“I’m surprised there isn’t a page showing the rogering,” Lorraine said.
Larry leaned over Phil and turned the book back a page. He showed this page to his wife. It featured a werewolf giving it to a human female wearing a nightgown. Larry worked a tab to make the werewolf’s pelvis thrust.
Lorraine’s eyes lit up. “That’s in there?! And you’ve been reading this book to our children all these years?!”
“I always leave this page out,” Larry said.
“Censorship!” Whitney cried.
“Why is that even in there?” Lorraine asked.
“It’s an old legend that was passed down from supernatural adults to supernatural children throughout the ages,” Phil said. “Kids, be they human or supernatural, were adults by age fifteen back in the day because few mortal creatures ever lived past thirty in ancient times. None of this sewing your oats and finding yourself until you’re thirty hullabaloo that they have today.”
“Rip that page out, please,” Lorraine said.
“And deface a classic?” Larry asked.
“I wanna see!” Whitney said.
“Over my dead body,” Larry answered. “Moving on.”
Larry read on. “’Since Archimedes has destroyed our name, Baal in the form of Sebastian told his son, ‘You must destroy Archimedes’ family.’ Francois was a good son who always trusted his father and obeyed his ever command, so, destroy them he did, as Francois kicked open the door to Archimedes’ house and chopped up Genevieve and the kids into a thousand pieces.”
Larry worked the tab that made Phillipe’s axe move up and down. “See that, Whit? Look, Francois is chopping the werewolf family into a thousand pieces.”
Whitney closed her eyes. “Turn the page! Quick!”
“Wait,” Lorraine said. “The sex part you’ll censor but the gruesome axe murder you’ll leave in?”
“Yeah,” Larry said. “I don’t know. I’m not a professional storyteller, babe. I’m doing my best here.”
Phil shook his head. “It’s an American thing. Too repressed about sex. Too open about violence.”
“Moving on,” Larry said as he turned the page. Here, Archimedes wept as he looked at the heads of his wife and children, which had been placed on pikes in front of his house.
“No!” Whitney said as she looked away. “I hate this part!” Larry worked a tab that made tears drawn on paper pop out of Archimedes’ eyes.
“Archimedes wept as he looked upon the severed heads of his wife and children,” Larry read. “As he fell to his knees, he vowed revenge on all of humanity for the crime that had been committed by one man.”
Page turn. Archimedes was shown using his sharp claws to slice Francois in half. Larry worked a tab that made the wolf claws swipe away. “Archimedes made short work of Francois, but he was not satisfied. He sliced his way across France, slicing peasants and noblemen, soldiers and clergy, rich and poor alike.”
“Revenge never pays,” Lorraine said.
“I’ll say,” Phil said. “I don’t want to say out loud that I once lived a life that inspired The Count of Monte Cristo, but let’s just say the Victor Hugo estate owes me some royalties.”
A new page. Baal in fiery demon form spoke to Archimedes. Larry worked a tab to make Baal’s mouth move up and down. “One day, Baal caught up to Archimedes and told him he should travel to England and slice up the family of Sir Godfrey, for it was he who had sewn so much dissent amongst humanity against the human population.”
Next page. Larry worked a tab that made Archimedes climb up the side of a castle. “Archimedes did just that. He sailed to England, scaled the side of Sir Godfrey’s home, and sliced Sir Godfrey’s wife and children to ribbons.”
“They don’t show it, do they?” Lorraine asked.
“No,” Larry said. “Somebody, somewhere decided that one family execution scene is enough for this book. Hun, you’ve never paid attention when I’ve read this before, have you?”
“You usually only drag it out on Christmas,” Lorraine said. “And I always try my best to stay three sheets to the wind till New Year’s.”
Phil gave Lorraine a high-five. “That’s the only way to spend the holidays.”
Larry turned the page. Sir Godfrey’s face was enraged as he gave a speech to a crowd of humans holding torches and brandishing pitchforks, which were brandished higher as Larry worked the corresponding tab. “Sir Godfrey toured Europe, telling humans that the world just was not big enough for humans and supernaturals to coexist peacefully. He urged them to join an army of humans that would wipe out supernaturals once and for all.”
Next page. Archimedes wept behind the bar of Ye Olde Barkhouse as Baal looked on in demon form. Larry worked the tab that made Archimedes cry. “When Archimedes came to his senses, he lamented what he had done. He wanted revenge for his family, but never wanted to destroy the world in an all consuming conflagration that pitted supernaturaldom against humanity. He decided that he had no choice but to return to Sir Godfrey and offer his head, but not before begging the knight to spare the rest of the non-humans.”
Page turn. Larry worked a tab that made Baal place a collar around Archimedes’ neck. “’These are the words of a coward, noble Archimedes!’ Baal said. ‘There’s no turning back, now. You did right by striking the first blow against Sir Godfrey and now you must raise an army of supernaturals to meet Sir Godfrey’s humans in battle. Accept this collar and it will give the gift of immortality. With it, you will know no fear in the heat of battle. Your rage will not be contained and you will back down against no one. Once you are victorious, you may return to your old life, and live for eternity. As the years pass, your memories of your deceased loved ones will fade, and you will be able to love again. And so, Archimedes accepted the collar.”
Next page. It was a map of Europe. One circle featured the face of Sir Godfrey in England. Another circle featured the face of Archimedes. Larry worked a tab that moved Sir Godrey’s face to France, and another tab that moved Archimedes’ face to what would be modern-day Italy. “Sir Godfrey called upon all willing human soldiers to meet him, Sir Reginald and Sir Alistair to meet him on the coast of France, from which he hoped to march inland and cut Archimedes off at the pass.”
Lorraine interrupted the story. “What’s that even mean? Why do they always say ‘cut them off at the pass?’ Where’s the pass?”
“Just another odd expression,” Phil said. Like, ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat.’”
“Is there?” Lorraine asked.
“Two hundred and forty-seven,” Phil said. “Well, two hundred and forty-eight if you want to split hairs.”
“But Sir Godfrey was too late, for Archimedes had already called upon all willing supernatural soldiers to meet him along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.”
Larry remained on the same page and kept reading. He used the tabs to move Sir Godfrey’s face West and Archimedes’ face North. Both circles ended up in Germany.
“I’ll probably ask this question over and over until the day I die,” Lorraine said. “But just so we’re clear, this book is, without a doubt, a story that is supposed to be read by supernatural parents to their children?”
“Yes,” Larry said.
“Nothing spells family togetherness like studying an ancient battle map,” Phil noted.
“The Army of Humanity moved east,” Larry read. “While the Army of Supernaturaldom moved North. Eventually, the warring factions met in Stuttgart.”
Larry turned the page. It was just another scene with a human and a troll clubbing each other over the head. Larry worked the tabs, making the clubs move up and down.
“It was a blood bath,” Larry read. “Humans and supernaturals fought for thirty days straight. Eyes were gouged out, heads were chopped off, bodies were torn limb from limb, warriors were set on fire. Captives were buried up to their necks in dirt, their heads slathered with honey so that they might be feasted upon alive by ants while birds of prey plucked their eyes from their sockets.”
“It’s the feel-good story of the year,” Lorraine said.
“Now in technicolor,” Phil added.
“Okay, peanut gallery,” Larry said before reading on. “Swords, axes and maces were swung while daggers were plunged. Catapults were used to hurl heavy boulders through the air, after which they would land and crush hundreds of soldiers at a time. Werewolves ripped the arms off of their opponents only to be disemboweled with silver pitchforks.”
“Gotta watch out for that silver,” Phil said.
“Trolls burned bridges they were once sworn to protect, cutting villages off from supply lines, leading to the mass starvation of millions of humans and supernaturals alike. Humans retaliated by lopping off the heads of the trolls, then putting them into baskets and delivering them to their troll mothers. Vampires bit the necks of humans, only to discover that the humans had been crafty enough to eat garlic minutes early. The vampires then died gruesome deaths while the humans committed suicide before they could become vampires.”
Phil raised his hand. “Point of order. I’ll have you all know that it’s been ages since I’ve bitten anyone, but back when I did, I always made sure there were no Italian eateries in the vicinity. It’s just common sense, really.”
“Goblins kidnapped humans and boiled them in hot oil. Humans seized the oil vats and poured it all over the goblins. Ogres pounded humans flat with their clubs. Humans wrapped ropes around the feet of the ogres until they fell eyeball first into opportunely placed spikes. Oh, how there was blood, guts, and gore galore, as the battlefield became strewn with little pieces of brain, spleen, liver, kidneys, lungs, and medulla oblongata. Widows would report to the sidelines daily to weep for their fallen husbands only to catch errant arrows in the esophagus. Deserters who couldn’t take the fighting anymore were chopped up and fed to wild boars, while front line officers would construct rudimentary gallows so that those who failed to obey orders could be hanged. Warhammers were used to crush the skulls of…”
“Hun,” Lorraine asked. ‘How long does the battle scene go on for?”
“At least ten more pages,” Larry said.
“Skip it,” Lorraine said.
“But it’s the best part!” Larry protested.
“We get the gist,” Lorraine said.
“Fine,” Larry said in a huff.
“Funny how the same book that features a scene where a human woman gets rogered by a werewolf just reuses the same old scene where a human and a troll club each other to depict a month-long battle in which so many depraved acts of brutality occurred.”
“Yeah,” Larry said. “Not gonna lie but I’ve always felt that Supernatural Publishing Service, Limited is a fly by night operation.”
“I have half a mind to write their CEO a sternly worded letter,” Phil said.
Larry turned to the next page. It showed Baal speaking to the Dark Lord himself, who took the appearance of another tall demon who was on fire. “As Baal himself stood upon the sidelines, savoring the carnage that he had wrought, he was, much to his surprise, joined by the Dark Lord himself. ‘My son,’ the Dark Lord said, ‘After seeing how you have brought this world to its knees with your underhanded tricks, the place where my heart would be if I had one swells with pride. You are a chip off the old block and I was wrong to ever doubt you. The whole buildup of tensions for centuries, followed by setting the whole thing off by duping that chump Archimedes into killing Sir Godfrey’s family was spectacular. I am now convinced you require a kingdom of your very own to rule. Hell, of course, is taken by yours truly, so don’t even think about stabbing your old man in the back. However, take this golden medallion, which features a likeness of how me, during the time in which I appeared to Adam and Eve as a serpent and pissed God off by sending humanity down the wrong path early. Once the humans and supernaturals destroy each other, you must praise my name using these exact words. Take this parchment upon which they are printed and commit them to memory. Once you do so, a portal to hell will open. The most rotten souls in my charge, truly history’s most disgusting assholes, will exit my domain and return to earth, where they will return to their fetid corpses and become your loyal Army of the Damned Undead.”
“I want this book out of my house,” Lorraine said.
“And become one of those atheist supernatural families that don’t believe in anything?” Larry said. “No way. Not on my watch.”
Larry read on. “’Dad,’ said Baal. ‘Your support makes me so happy. I hope you know I never planned on betraying you. All I have ever wanted was a nice father-son relationship where we play catch and share our most intimate secrets. I hope we can have that once this is all over.’”
“I always wanted that with my father,” Phil said. “Never got it though. Oh, if I could cry right now, I would.”
More reading from Larry. “’Look, you little shit,’ the Dark Lord said. ‘That’s all well and good, but once the portal to hell is opened, I have no doubt that blind ambition will take hold of you, and you’ll try to gather up your merry little band of supernaturals and march into hell and shove a trident right up your old man’s turd hatch. So, there’s a catch.”
“I don’t like the foul language one bit,” Lorraine said. “Couldn’t they have cleaned it up a bit, especially seeing how, and I can’t repeat this enough, this book is intended for children?”
“It’s the Dark Lord, Lorraine,” Phil said. “You can’t expect him to speak like Miss Manners.”
“Cover your ears, Whitney,” Lorraine said.
“Mom!” Whitney said. “I’m eighteen.”
“She’s eighteen, Lorraine,” Phil said. “She’s fine. I marched into the Coliseum wearing nothing but a loincloth with a spear in my hand when I was eighteen and I turned out fine.”
“But did you really?” Lorraine asked.
“Eventually,” Phil said. “After many years of psychotherapy…after Freud invented psychotherapy…and after I was able to find a psychotherapist who was willing to treat supernaturals on the downlow.”
Phil looked at Whitney. “Just send your father your therapy bills, Little Lumpkiss.”
“I’ll be retired to Florida by then,” Larry said. “Moving on.”
Larry flipped the page. The two male demons were joined by a female demon. Like her counterparts, she also had horns and was on fire, but unlike them, she had boobs. “’The catch,’ the Dark Lord said, ‘is that you must marry Lilith, my most trusted demon and also, the only female demon I ever made because, let’s face it, women are evil enough already. Women have always been the weak link, ever since I got Eve to bite that apple, but fear not, for Lilith is strong. You will love her instantly and she will be your wife. She will guide you with her sage wisdom. Heed her advice well, but do not betray me, for if you do, she will fuck your shit up. I’m not lying, son, she will fuck your shit right the fuck up. And don’t even think about trying to open the portal by yourself, because if you do, she will cut off your dong and feed it to you until you suffocate and die. You will both have to lay your hands on the medallion to open the portal, so you won’t be able to cut Lilith out.”
Lorraine cradled her head into her hands. “Someone needs to gather all the copies of this book and set them on fire. And to think, somewhere out there is a nice family gathered around their coffee table reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.”
“Now that’s a book you need to burn, Lorraine,” Phil said.
“Why?” Lorraine asked.
Phil whispered into Lorraine’s ear. “Oh,” Lorraine said. “Right.”
Larry turned the page. He worked a tab that caused a falcon to fly toward Sir Godfrey. “Though it wasn’t made public knowledge until after the war so as to not stir up dissension among the ranks, Sir Reginald was a very powerful warlock. Gifted at birth with the ability to control the dark forces that ebb and flow throughout space and time, he was actually a supernatural, though he held himself out as a human and swore allegiance to all of humanity. As a falcon, he had been surveying the battle overhead in the sky, and had witnessed the meeting between Baal, the Dark Lord, and Lilith all along. He informed Sir Godfrey of how, through trickery and deceit, he had manipulated both sides for centuries, turning former friends into foes, and that Archimedes had been purposefully led astray. Sir Godfrey looked across the battlefield, felt remorse at all the lives lost, and dispatched Sir Reginald to Archimedes to sue for peace.”
A new page. Sir Godfrey and Archimedes sat across from each other at a table. Larry moved a tab that caused Sir Godfrey’s and Archimedes’ hands to scribble across a lengthy document. “The foes reached an accord. They accepted the grim conclusion that they had been deceived into nearly destroying the entire world. Still, countless heinous deeds had been committed, and both sides agreed that they would never be able to trust the other ever again. Sir Godfrey agreed that he would lead no further campaigns against supernaturals and that he would call upon all humans to leave supernaturals alone and to live in peace. In exchange, Archimedes agreed upon behalf of all supernaturals that they would never again use their powers for any purpose. Werewolves and vampires would be allowed to live as and among humans, provided that they only appear in public as humans, and that they did not use their powers in any way. Trolls, ogres, goblins, and others without human form would be required to live in the shadows, relegated to caves, abandoned ruins, graveyards, and other places where humans dared not tread. Demons, of which there were few on earth for they were of hell, would be given no quarter, and were to be captured or killed on sight. This document came to be known as the Treaty of Stuttgart, and has dictated the actions of supernatural beings ever since.”
“So, because a werewolf signed a piece of paper a thousand years ago, we have to live as humans with bad eyesight and high cholesterol and acne and limited strength and mobility and not as awesome, super strong wolves?” Whitney asked. “That doesn’t seem fair.”
Larry took off his glasses, used the end of his shirt to rub off a smudge, then returned them to his face. “Them’s the breaks.”
Another page. It showed Archimedes in bed. Larry worked a tab that caused Baal’s face to appear in Archimedes’ window.
“After the war, Archimedes returned to his home and tried to no avail to resume his former life. Alas, he was saddened without his family, and his mind was so haunted by the horrors he had seen and done that sleep eluded him. To make matters worse, one night, Baal, who went on the run with Lillith after the Treaty was signed, appeared in Archimedes’ window. Archimedes told the demon to begone, for he would have no more of his trickery. Baal smiled and told the werewolf that their time together was not over. The collar he had placed around Archimedes’ neck would give the werewolf eternal life as promised, but it would also force him to be the demon’s slave until the end of time. From this day forward, Baal explained, any failure of Archimedes to obey the demon’s command would result in debilitating pain for the werewolf. Moreover, to ensure that Archimedes would never revert to his human form and slip away into the world of man, Baal commanded him to remain in his werewolf form forever.”
Larry turned the page and moved a tab that made Archimedes fall to the floor. “Archimedes assumed the demon was bluffing and demanded he leave at once. As soon as he did so, he felt a nauseating pain that coursed its way throughout his body, sending him to the floor in a heap. The werewolf’s body and mind had been broken, and he never again challenged the demon’s control over him. He left his home and went with Baal peacefully.
Next page. Larry worked a tab that caused Sir Godfrey to throw a silver net over Baal and Lilith.” “Years passed and Sir Godfrey and his remaining soldiers hunted Baal and Lillith to the ends of the earth, trapping them in nets of silver that bound their demonic powers. The knight had been saddened to hear that Archimedes had become the Baal’s unwilling servant, but was surprised to find him nowhere around when the demons were captured. He hoped that somehow, Archimedes had found a way to break free but never found out for sure, as the werewolf was never seen again. Baal and Lilith were taken to a faraway land where they were imprisoned in the center of the earth where they would never be able to make mischief again.”
“He didn’t kill them?” Whitney asked.
“Killing a demon is a whole process,” Phil said. “A lot of work. A real grind.”
Larry turned the page and moved a tab that caused Sir Godfrey to hold up the golden medallion. “Sir Godfrey attempted to destroy the medallion so that it would never be used to open a portal to hell. Unfortunately, its magic was so powerful that it was unbreakable. Sir Godfrey remarried, started a new family, and lived in peace for many years. When he reached a ripe old age, he called his son to his deathbed and gave him the medallion, bidding him to ensure that the bauble would remain in his family’s hands until the end of time and out of the hands of those who would use it for ill.”
“Hey, it’s the last page,” Larry said as he held up a scene of a crowded city bus.
“Thank God,” Lorraine said.”
“Nearly a thousand years have passed since the signing of the Treaty of Stuttgart, but its importance can’t be understated today,” Larry read. “For close to a millennium, it has kept humans and supernaturals from going to war again. Those supernaturals who can blend in amongst the humans do so quietly. Those who can’t, keep to the dark. It has been so long since humans have had any meaningful interactions with supernaturals that the prevailing belief amongst humans is that supernaturals don’t exist, that they are the stuff of fairy tales and make believe, designed to scare human children and provide fodder for horror novels and films. As a supernatural, you know better, but hopefully, you know you must do your part to keep the Treaty of Stuttgart alive, for if it fails, so to will the chances of supernaturaldom’s survival. The End.”
Larry shut the book. He, Phil, and Lorraine stared at Whitney, waiting for her next words. She offered none.
“Well?” Larry asked.
Whitney still said nothing.
“Perhaps The History of The Treaty of Stuttgart: Children’s Edition isn’t the best story to read before bed,” Phil said.
“I’ll say,” Lorraine said. “If that was the children’s edition I’d hate to read the adult edition.”
“Ironically,” Phil said. “The illustrations are less graphic.”
“Sweetheart,” Larry said to Whitney. “Now do you see why a young supernatural like you can’t go throwing her werewolf powers around?”
Whitney looked at the adult faces. She knew all three wanted her to say yes. Pop, of course, didn’t care. He was too busy in dreamland.
“I’m sorry,” Whitney said. “But no.”