Dr. Morrigan was a mad scientist. Everyone knew that.
His castle sat atop a hill overlooking the village. Tattered pink banners fluttered from gray turrets topped by crumbling crenellations. The drawbridge hadn’t been drawn up in centuries. Its chains hung loose, rusty and rotted. The two portcullises still worked, grudgingly. Dr. Morrigan’s assistant tested them weekly. It wouldn’t do to not have some sort of defense against mobs armed with torches and pitchforks, even if such mobs were unlikely. The villagers had gotten so used to the mad laughter and the crackling bzzzts of electricity and the tortured screaming that they didn’t even hear them anymore. The castle and its occupants had become part of the backdrop of everyday life.
Gunky GilsCarbo pulled on the chains to open the outer portcullis and wished he could be like the villagers. They were free. They were happy. They didn’t have to constantly bust their asses for a crazy dude who didn’t even remember to pay them half the time. The villagers even got to go out on dates, which was totally unfair.
He was in the midst of a dry spell. A dry spell that had lasted for years. It wasn’t that he was ugly, or anything. He wasn’t an Igor, with stitches everywhere and a hump on his back and one eye bigger than the other. It was just that he didn’t have time, and also living in the bowels of a dark dank princess playset really was not good for his complexion. Plus he kind of smelled like mold and electrified dead things.
Gunky checked the list Dr. Morrigan had given him. Electrodes, dry ice, tongue of newt, eye of a hot babe, a brain, and a pound of sugar. Easy peasy. He pulled his scooter out of the little storage shed by the end of the drawbridge and set off down the hill.
The Giant Wonder Box Store For All Your Mad Scientist And Evil Wizard Needs sat uneasily on the outskirts of the village. The huge neon sign buzzed fitfully, the red-lit letters blinking on and off. Weeds sprung up from the cracks in the empty parking lot. Gunky parked his scooter by the entrance and watched as a leaf skittered across the pavement.
He wasn’t sure how this place stayed in business. A small one mad scientist village couldn’t support a huge store like this. He’d never seen any other customers inside. But then, it was a magic store. Maybe the owners created fairy gold to pay off loans and rent and suppliers and stuff, or maybe they were vampires with centuries of investments and this was just a hobby, or maybe they had lots of customers but the customers were all invisible, or maybe something ate all the customers after they made their purchases. He wondered why he’d never been eaten.
He stepped through the glass door. The little bell attached to it jingled.
“Ah, Mr. GilsCarbo, we were told to expect you! Please, what does Dr. Morrigan require from us today?”
A gnome stood on a stool behind the cash register in lane 13. The lanes stretched down the front of the store, on and on and on. Gunky wasn’t sure how many there were. The others were covered with a layer of dust, their signs dark, their displays dead. Only lane 13 was alive, the register’s screen flickering with ads for love potions and death tokens and the Frankenator 9000 Plus, guaranteed to bring your monster to life within three thunderstorms or your money back.
“Uh, the list says electrodes, dry ice, tongue of newt, eye of a hot babe, a brain, and a pound of sugar.”
“My, what a list. I wonder what the old man is up to now! Well come on, don’t just stand around. Time is money, friend!”
The gnome jumped off the stool and headed into the dark recesses of the store. Gunky pulled a cart from the huddled cart masses by the entrance and followed him.
Dust was everywhere. It coated the lab coats, the chainsaws, the cathode ray tubes, the castle defense training games. The right front wheel of the cart squeaked. It was the only sound in the store.
Gunky fell into a daydream involving the eye of a hot babe, a pound of sugar, and the removal of his pants. It was just getting to the good part when the gnome screamed.
“Geez, watch where you’re going with that thing!”
“Oh man, I’m sorry. It’s just, it’s hard to see in here, you know? You guys ever thought about buying brighter light bulbs?”
The gnome stared up at him. Gunky was of the opinion that the gnome’s gaze lingered far too long on his pants.
“Yes, well, here we are, the electrodes Dr. Morrigan requested.”
Gunky reached over the cart and the gnome and picked up the package of electrodes. He really wished the gnome would stop looking at him like that.
He dropped the electrodes into the cart. The metal clanged a bit, and as the echo died away he realized how silent it was in the store. Silent, and empty.
“I believe dry ice was on the list?”
“That’s in the theatrics department. This way!”
The gnome strode out of the aisle, dust rising up behind him. Gunky followed, determined to stay alert and not hit the little guy with the cart again, no matter how attractive the eye of a hot babe was. No eye of a hot babe could ever be attractive enough to cancel out the creepiness of an eye of a recently struck with a shopping cart gnome.
They passed by plastic tombstones, long black capes, large beehive wigs of black hair with one white stripe, green makeup, giant red buttons and levers, toy sharks with toy laser beams on their heads. All covered with dust. It didn’t look like anyone had been in these aisles in decades.
“Ah yes, here we go. I don’t know why it’s in this section. Yes, it can make pretty smoke, but if I know Dr. Morrigan he needs it to keep body parts frozen. Am I right?”
Gunky pictured Dr. Morrigan’s lab. The test tubes. The vats. The iron gurneys with leather straps. That one weird thing that he’d never been able to figure out, but it had all spikes and a furry bit. Oh, and the boy band posters.
“Yes. Body parts. He’s putting something together. Or I guess someone.”
“Oh ho. Do ask him to mind that this someone does not get loose in the village. I don’t want any mobs torching the store. Come on, let’s go get the poor thing’s tongue.”
The gnome dropped the dry ice in the cart. Again, there was the one lonely thump, and then silence. The silence was really getting on Gunky’s nerves.
“So why don’t you guys pipe some music in here? You know, some evil tunes or something to help shoppers get in the mood.”
The gnome stared at him again. He wondered if maybe he could substitute the eye of a creepy gnome for the eye of a hot babe.
“Come, this way to the organ section.”
As they neared the section with the body parts, Gunky noticed footprints in the dust. Someone had been this way recently. From the way the dust was scuffed up, it looked like they’d been in a hurry.
“Tongue of newt, tongue of newt, where are the newts? It’s so hard to keep fresh organs, you know. Our customers don’t want the preserved stuff. They want their organs ripe and juicy. I could have sworn we got a shipment of newts in just the other day. Oh yes, here they are.”
Gunky stopped just in time to keep the cart from slamming into the gnome. He’d been so busy looking at the odd patterns in the dust that he hadn’t noticed the aquariums and the cages.
He studied the frogs. He read the information listed below the gerbil cage and learned about beta tubulin isotypes in the gerbil organ of Corti. He thought that the salamanders were very pretty.
He didn’t notice any activity or sounds around the newts. Nope. There was nothing going on there at all. In fact, there were no newts.
He focused on a stand with a roll of plastic bags, like the ones in the fruit and vegetable section at the village grocery store. The stand seemed so normal. So out of place here.
The gnome took one of the bags, dropped something that Gunky refused to see in it, and placed the bag in the cart.
“Freshest tongue of newt you can get! Tell Dr. Morrigan that he absolutely must use it within the next twenty four hours. I assume he’s prepared?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so. He’s already got most of the bits, you know. And there’s a storm coming tonight.”
“Good, good. Come on then. Next is the eye of a hot babe, I believe.”
The cages and aquariums were replaced with large jars and coolers. Gunky had been half expecting cages of live humans. He sighed in relief.
The dust was more stirred up here. Someone had been running fast, and there were other prints too.
“We just got this eye in yesterday. Dr. Morrigan is very lucky. It’s not every day that a hot babe comes in the store.”
The other prints weren’t human.
“She paid first, of course. I believe she was buying some materials to make torches. Oh, and she was also very interested in the pitchforks. We have an excellent selection of pitchforks.”
The other prints appeared to be large paws.
“Oh, but of course you’re not interested in pitchforks, are you? No, no, I imagine you would be much more interested in the flame resistant castle curtains. Well, here is your eye of a hot babe.”
The gnome dropped a small plastic box into the cart. Gunky, pumped full of adrenalin and on high alert, could hear liquid sloshing around inside it. There was another sound, out on the far edge of hearing. It sounded like something breathing.
“Let’s see. Next on the list was a brain, I believe?”
“Yep! That’s the most important part. You gotta have a good brain. The last time he tried this, he used Old Cockeye’s brain. Do you know Old Cockeye? He used to go around the village yelling about what the witches were doing to the soil and how the government was covering up a fae invasion. That didn’t work too well. We ended up having to kill that monster and use it for parts.”
Gunky babbled, hoping to sound normal, hoping to sound like someone who could just pay and leave and put the bags into the basket on his scooter and ride back home, back to the lovely princess playset castle and Dr. Morrigan. If he got out of here he would never say anything bad about Dr. Morrigan again.
The gnome walked up and down the aisle. The breathing sound got louder.
“Oh yes, of course, a good brain is very important, and we do so value Dr. Morrigan as a customer.”
The gnome looked through the coolers. The breathing came closer.
“I don’t remember when we last got a brain. We might not have one. Certainly not a fresh one. No, no. And of course it must be a human brain. Newt brain won’t work, not for this.”
The gnome looked up. Gunky could almost feel hot breath on his neck.
“Sir, do you mind paying now?”
Gunky took a second to process the meaning of that question.
“Oh hell naw!”
The gnome couldn’t have his brain! He needed his brain! He needed it to think, and be alive, and stuff!
He turned and ran, kicking up the dust. Running just as the hot babe had, following her trail. Maybe the gnome had only taken her eye. Maybe she’d gotten away, and now she was hiding in the store somewhere. Maybe it was her breathing.
“Cerebrallus! Fetch that brain!”
Or maybe not.
The gnome put the electrodes, dry ice, tongue of newt, eye of hot babe, and the nice fresh brain of a mad scientist’s assistant into the scooter’s basket. He couldn’t believe his luck. He was finally getting out of that nasty store. He’d get to work for Dr. Morrigan. Dr. Morrigan, the most respected of all the mad scientists, the one working on the cutting edge of monster creation. The newt’s tongue was a really clever innovation, and he’d love to see the look on the faces of the other mad scientists at the MadFranken convention when they saw the eye of the hot babe.
And of course the brain of the assistant. He was quite proud of that. It was his own gift to Dr. Morrigan, his way of saying “I can work with you. I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, and doggone it, my monster dog is really well trained to not injure the parts I need.”
The scooter was a little big for him, but he managed. He drove off towards the castle.
Rain came down in sheets. The wind knocked a few more blocks off the crumbling crenellations. The castle shook with thunder.
Dr. Morrigan stood by the huge red lever, waiting. His new assistant had procured the perfect brain for his creation. Everything was ready. Just one lightning strike, and he would be the talk of the world. He would get a full feature in Monsters Makers Weekly. He would receive a grant from the Institute of Crazed Scientists. All the hot babes at the MadFranken convention would fall at his feet.
The lightning strike came. Adrenalin rushed from his kidneys as he pulled the lever. This was it!
“Rise, my monster! Rise!”
He looked at the lever, confused.
Nothing continued to happen.
He looked at his new assistant, the clever little gnome. The gnome looked back at him.
A sudden horrible thought struck him.
“Did you forget the pound of sugar?”