It had been three weeks, and the area still smelled of smoke. Peter picked his way through the ash that had mingled with the sand.
He turned at the voice to see Alex walking up, sticking his car keys in his pockets.
“I didn’t think anyone would be here.”
“We’re here!” Alex frowned. “All of us!”
Peter frowned. “All?”
And Micky and Micky and Davy walked up behind Alex.
“You guys.” Peter ran his hands through his hair. “It’s a…. It’s a mess.”
Micky rubbed his hands together. “Well, then! Let’s get going!”
Moments later, the five were prowling around the burned-out shell that had once been their home.
With a grunt, Mike and Micky moved a burned-out section of fallen wall. “Oh, shit,” Mike breathed at what lay beneath.
“Schneider,” Micky groaned. He turned the mannequin over and grimaced.
The plastic face and hands were disfigured – pitted and scarred by the heat. The natty business suit was in tatters, exposing the intact-but-slightly charred arms.
Surprisingly, though, to be through such a conflagration, the mannequin was intact and in good shape.
Peter found the remnants of Micky’s auxiliary drum kit. The cymbals were warped and bent and the rims looked like oversized crescent-moon tambourines.
Micky sighed. “Let me try to salvage these.” He and Mike moved to help Peter with the drums, leaving Schneider lay where he’d been found.
Davy managed to uncover a relatively unharmed metal chair and sat down to rest for a moment.
Alex turned into his wolf form and began sniffling about, trying to sort out the ash from the not.
Tired, Peter laid down in the soft sand and put an arm over his eyes. Micky and Davy went to get food for them all, while Mike and Alex went to the other side of the rubble to let Peter nap in peace.
Peter heard a noise and turned his head. He saw Schneider – burned, half-melted Schneider – move on his own.
The mannequin shakily stood. He shook his arms and legs, dislodging the ash. He moved and sat down in the metal chair, fixing his one good eye onto Peter.
The half-melted grin seemed to grow. The voice Peter knew from countless string-pulls rippled out.
“Hell of a ride, huh?”
Peter shouted, sitting straight up. Realising he’d been sleeping, he groaned and ran his hands down his face. He moved to stand up – and froze.
Schneider was sitting in the chair, his painted eye staring blindly at the sky.
“Mike!” Peter yelped. “Michael! Micky! Look!”
They approached, and Mike frowned. “Hey – Peter, why’d you put him in the chair?”
Alex padded over and sniffed at Schneider.
“I didn’t!” Peter gasped. “I just woke up and he was like that – just sitting there!”
With a startled yelp, Alex scuttled backward, lupine eyes huge.
“Alex?” Micky asked, alarmed. “What was it?”
The wolf shook his head as he transformed back to his human form. “He should smell like plastic! He should smell like wood and ash!”
Micky was frowning deeply now. “And he…doesn’t?”
“No!” Alex whimpered. “No! He smells like… he smells like…”
“Alex, relax!” Micky shook him, very gently. “What does he smell like?”
“A human!” Alex yelped. “He smells like a living human being!”
And Peter wasn’t the only one who yelled in horror as Schneider’s undamaged eye –
“All right,” Mike demanded. “You can stop pretending. You’ve been discovered. Who the hell are you?”
The half-melted face turned to him. “You named me Schneider. And you were right.”
Peter shivered. “Have you – have you always been here?”
“Oh, no. Not always. Just since you began to grow into your abilities.”
Micky nodded. “Then you know what – who – we’re up against.”
“Yes,” Schneider sighed. “I know.”
“Why are you here?” Peter gasped.
“Believe it or not – I’m here to help.”
“Good!” Micky grinned. “We need all the help we can get!”
Peter nodded. “He’s planning another attack.” At their looks, he hung his head. “I saw it.”
“Then, you need to tell us what you saw,” Mike said. “Now.”
When they got back to Alex’s house, the five unloaded Schneider and Alex carried the damaged mannequin inside.
Alex’s father, Jacob, studied the burned face and hands. “Yes, I can re-mold this. It’ll take a few hours.” He vanished downstairs to his workshop, and Alex grinned at Schneider.
“I can’t wait. You’ll look like yourself again!”
“I can’t wait, either,” Schneider replied. “I sound like I’m drunk! This melted-face business stinks!”
That set everyone to laughing.
MacLaren came up the stairs after dark. When he had slaked his hunger – and Micky had made a mental note to get him some more animal blood, as they were running low – he moved to check out the new addition to the living room. “Ah, Schneider,” he sadly sighed. “You’ve looked better.”
“You’re no shining beauty, yourself.”
MacLaren jerked, fangs dropping and eyes reddening as he staggered back, hissing.
“Relax, Snakey – I’m on your side. And before you ask ‘oh, how can I know’ – remember this. I was in that house as it burned to the ground. I was inside it all the way till the fire died down.”
Slowly, MacLaren’s human features reasserted themselves. He circled Schneider. “How well can you move?”
Schneider snorted inelegantly. “Have you seen many horror movies?”
“Thanks to Micky.”
A slow nod and the head wobbled. “Think of the Mummy.”
MacLaren’s nose wrinkled. “That’s no good. You’d be useless in a fight.”
“No,” Schneider snarled at him. “Really? I never would have thought of that!” His lone eye rolled in irritation.
MacLaren popped him on the shoulder. “Sarcasm is uncalled for.”
“Right now, sarcasm is all I have,” Schneider shot back.
“We’ll have to do something about that,” MacLaren said with a grin. “Trust us.”
Schneider’s voice softened. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
MacLaren and Alex’s father worked through the night and sleep when the sun came up. Jacob woke around 2 in the afternoon and went back to work.
When MacLaren woke, Micky had fresh blood waiting for him. Once again, the drummer with the eidetic memory assured him it was animal blood.
Once again, Micky sidestepped MacLaren’s direct question of its origin, saying only he had a good butcher that wouldn’t ask questions.
MacLaren made a mental note to confront him about this when the situation wasn’t so urgent.
After feeding, MacLaren headed back down to the basement – and froze, arrested by what he saw there.
The metal skeleton was complete. Jacob was adding wires and cables to it to provide for full range of motion. The cables were complete on the arm, legs, and ‘spine’. He was focusing on the delicate task of wiring the hands.
“How --?” MacLaren gasped. He’d expected just legs and arms wired up.
Jacob laughed. He’d described the concept of wire-controlled puppets to MacLaren the night before. “I told you—I’m just making a life-sized puppet. But I’m going to give him full range of motion.” He finished one hand and moved to the other. “You can start installing the skin on the face and head.”
MacLaren picked up the rubbery mask. “But there’s no control mechanism?”
“Yes, there is,” Jacob smiled. “It’s named Schneider.”
MacLaren grinned at him, and they finished the cables and clothing the mannequin with skin. “At least he’s human-looking.”
Jacob wrestled sweats and a long-sleeved shirt onto it. “There. He’s ready.”
Though almost a foot shorter than the mannequin, MacLaren was tremendously strong – as all vampyres were. It was he who carried the mannequin upstairs and sat it beside Schneider.
Painfully, the burned face turned to it. “Handsome devil.”
Laughter broke out, and then the burned body’s single eye closed.
Seconds later, a pair of large blue eyes opened as Schneider began to control his new body.
Mike watched the setting sun for a long moment before sighing and turning back to the burned-out rubble that had once been his home.
Carefully picking his way through it, Mike’s fingers automatically sought out the switches for the floodlamps they’d set up. Light illuminated the rubble and Mike sighed again.
He’d apologise to the neighbours later. As it was, every one of them smiled understandingly at him before they drew their shades.
They all understood this was a temporary, urgent situation.
Mike smiled as he glanced up and down the beach. They had some great neighbours.
Or did they?
Mike frowned as Peter’s dream came back to him. He’d dreamed that one of their neighbours had betrayed them. But the dream hadn’t been clear enough to show Peter which one it was.
And that bugged Mike.
He looked up to see MacLaren gliding in, carrying Schneider. Peter, Micky and Davy drove up in the jeep. The pair in flight touched down, and the rest walked to the pile.
Mike watched, fascinated, as Schneider walked about under his own power. “You two did great work.”
MacLaren grinned at him. “Jacob merely designed an oversized puppet. One with bendable joints. Schneider controls it just as our mind controls our bodies.”
“Amazing,” Mike smiled back. “Absolutely amazing.” Then he raised his voice a bit. “What did you find?”
Schneider looked up at him. “Part of the music books stored in the windowseat.”
Smiling, Mike came and crouched beside him. “I know now why that low-level buzz in my head was there. It was you. Watching. Gathering strength.”
Schneider nodded. “I tried to remain hidden until the time was right – but then, the house literally burned down around my ears.”
“I’m sorry we just left you there.”
A hand waved. “It’s all right. You didn’t know I was here, and I knew you’d come back. Besides…” He looked down, flexing each finger, then smiled up at Mike. “I got a new, more mobile body out of the deal. I’m happy.”
Mike returned the smile, and then frowned as concern leaked to him. He looked over to see MacLaren frowning deeply as Micky and Peter chatted briefly with Niles, who then headed back down the beach to finish his nightly run.
Mike and Schneider walked over to him as the others joined him. “What’s wrong, Mac?” Mike asked.
“Who, Niles?” Micky grinned. “Yeah, he’s our neighbour from down the way. Bit of a stoner, but he’s harmless.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” MacLaren snarled. “How long has he been enthralled? To whom?”
“What?” the Monkees gasped, and Micky gasped out, “Enthralled? Niles?”
“You must be joking!” Davy spluttered. “Niles?”
Mike’s face went grim. “That….actually would make sense.” At their expressions, he spread his hands. “Some of what I was picking up from him made no sense. Now it does.”
Davy’s eyes narrowed. “Let’s go pay him a visit. You with me, MacLaren?”
His double nodded. “I am.”
Niles opened his door and smiled to see Davy there. “Hey, man! Good t’see you!”
Davy walked in, MacLaren right behind him.
Niles blinked. “Whoa – you’re a twin! You never told me! Hey.” He stuck out his hand. “Name’s Niles.”
“I know.” MacLaren looked deep into his eyes. “Your name is Niles. You are our friend. Why?”
And Niles found he could not look away nor lie. “Mike. He looks like my master.”
“Andrew,” Davy growled.
“Easy, lad,” MacLaren replied, though he did not break eye contact with Niles. “The friendship is true. May have begun as thrall, but it is true.”
Davy nodded. “So what do we do?”
“This.” MacLaren’s eyes widened and reddened.
Niles stiffened, gasping as one master’s control was severed.
And another’s was established.
In the tunnels, thralls and blood-slaves were sent scurrying for cover as Andrew bellowed out his shock, grief and rage at the loss of one of his favourites.
MacLaren held a trembling Niles close, letting the emotional storm pass with the new thrall safe in the arms of his master.
“Andrew isn’t going to like that,” Davy muttered. “You’ve probably just caused him to step up the timetable for his next attack.”
MacLaren looked up at the young WeaponsMaster. Eyes red and fangs down, his reply was an inhuman snarl.
“Let him come.”
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