This Halloween Farfel’s got a rollicking tale for the crew, featuring his great demon-slaying ancestor, Van Farfel.
On a dark and stormy night, Van Farfel finds himself in a fight of his life. His nemesis, a possessed vacuum cleaner who feeds on cat fur!
He must rescue a family, free the trapped dust bunnies, and prevent Count Vacula from bringing his evil vacuum mate to life. Plus, he must do it all in time for dinner. It is Tuna Tuesday, after all.
This illustrated story features costume-covered kittens, dog houses for cats, magical fanny packs, and monsters who have been known to eat parents.
Farfel and Bob’s
The Tale of Count Vacula and the Dust Bunny Army
Bob sauntered out his new pet door and onto the glass top of the patio table. The pet door was built into the window in the laundry room, so he required a lift on either side to use it. The damp chill of fall greeted him. The morning’s sunshine had yielded to a gray gloom that was expected to persist.
Nevertheless, today was a proud day. He liked any day that had new furniture, especially when it was his own.
Right on time, Farfel trotted across the freshly mowed lawn that separated their two houses. “What’s up? You said it was important.”
“It is.” Unable to contain his excitement, Bob grinned wide, showing off his fangs. His claws dug into the gray wood planks of the deck underfoot.
Farfel gave him the look. The one that said Bob was acting a little too weird for everyday life. Before Bob could set him straight, a fat raindrop splattered between them. Another followed a few feet away.
“You know what tonight is,” Farfel said, changing the subject to more pressing matters. “We need a plan for the Doorbell Monster.”
The Doorbell Monster was an annual menace who snuck up on them each year at Halloween. Bob’s nervous system proved less capable of dealing with the Doorbell Monster than Farfel’s. In fact, Farfel often claimed it wasn’t a real monster at all. He required visual evidence, as if the terrorizing Ding Dong all night long wasn’t proof enough.
However, Farfel also had the kitten to think of. Rooster, his nephew, had yet to be exposed to any doorbell-ringing fiends, and Farfel wanted to keep it that way.
“I have a plan,” Bob announced, pleased with himself.
Farfel gave him the look again. “I’ll bite. What is it?”
Bob turned and set off to the rear of the house where the deck wrapped slightly around the back. This was the furthest corner from the street, a corner that usually held a wind-swept pile of leaves and now held his new pride and joy. It was a small house with white siding and a red roof. Coils of string lighting haphazardly wound around it, and a little pumpkin decorated the cut-away entrance.
Farfel blinked. “It’s a dog house.”
Bob huffed. “It’s a cat house!”
Farfel pointed. “It says Bowser. It has a bone over the door.”
Ridiculous. A dog could barely turn around in a structure that size, clearly it was meant to shelter cats. “Marcia said that was the brand. It’s a Bowser Cat House.”
“Really,” Farfel said flatly.
Offended at the implication that Marcia might try to pass dog merchandise off on him, Bob dug in his heels. “Yes, really.”
Farfel saw reason. “I guess you’re right. It’s an excellent cat house.”
“And it’s mine,” Bob added primly.
Farfel chuckled. “Does that mean you’re not going to share it?”
Bob stuck his nose up and sniffed, accidentally inhaling a snoot full of new plastic scent. He grimaced. His house needed to be broken in a bit. “I might. Especially since it’s so well hidden from the Doorbell Monster.”
“Hm. Good point.” Farfel stuck his head inside the darkened house and looked around. “What’s all this wiry stuff on the ceiling?”
“They’re lights,” Bob exclaimed. His house would light up in the dark! His house was the best house on the block!
Farfel backed out the way he came. “Okay. The kid and I will be over at dusk. The Mrs. says she has a surprise for us.”
Uh oh. Humans always had the same surprises on Halloween. “It’s a costume,” Bob said.
“Yeah, it definitely won’t be as cool as a dog house.”
“Well, Bob, it looks like Halloween might be canceled.” Marcia emptied a bag of miniature candy bars into a ceramic pumpkin bowl. It had grown dark early, due to heavy cloud cover, and now rain had begun to pelt the windows in earnest.
Outside, getting wet, a cluster of pumpkins sat on the front stoop, awaiting soggy trick-or-treaters. Marcia had also decorated herself. She wore fluffy black cat ears and a fake black tail. Hand-drawn whiskers adorned her cheeks, and an extra black smudge darkened the tip of her nose.
“Want to watch horror movies with me instead?” Her voice quirked up at the end. She knew how much they loved to watch scary movies together.
Bob, however, was eager to see his house in the dark. He wanted to see the lights. And he’d promised Farfel.
He padded toward the laundry room, casting a glance over his shoulder. It wouldn’t do to have her not realize he was going out. She might inadvertently lock the pet door on him. It had never happened, but this was most likely due to Bob’s vigilance.
She set her hands on her hips. “Really, Bob? In this weather?”
In true cat fashion, he continued his stroll down the hall and turned left at the laundry room.
She came after him with a sigh. “Okay.”
He launched himself to the top of the old raggedy cat tower. It had been resurrected from the basement and placed there because it was just the right height to allow access to the window. A wide panel, with a cat-sized door in the center, held the window open.
Marcia pushed up the plastic pet flap so he could walk through. “But the good vampire movie starts at nine. So, be back by then, all right?”
No problem, Bob thought, and off he went.
The intoxicating glow of the orange string lights could be seen even before Bob rounded the corner and his house came into view. Farfel and Rooster were already inside.
“Ooh, Uncle Bob, so cool!” The kitten ran around in circles tripping over a folded wool blanket and hopping in and out of a shabby plaid cat bed—these had also been resurrected from the basement. Fortunately, Marcia was not a careless human who threw such gems away just because they were past their prime.
“And dry,” Farfel added from the corner. His face was tilted upward as he admired the orange-tipped lights pinned along the ceiling, part of the same string that crowned the roof.
The tail of Rooster’s costume caught Bob on the nose. He waited for the kitten to settle down before getting a better look. Rooster was usually all white, save for a black heart-shaped patch on his rump. Now, he was cloaked in velvety blue-gray. The costume encircled his head and ran down his back.
Bob recognized the white triangular felt teeth that framed the kitten’s face right away. “You look like a shark.” He had seen several in the movies Marcia watched on Friday nights.
“Land shark,” Farfel echoed with approval.
Rooster nodded profusely, jiggling the top and bottom jaw flaps around his head. “Do you know what a land shark is, Uncle Bob?”
Bob hadn’t a clue. Marcia’s horror movies hadn’t covered those.
“They’re vacuum cleaners!”
“Mom said this costume was super scary, so I must be a vacuum cleaner. It’s the scariest thing there is.”
Bob couldn’t argue with that logic. “We don’t have a vacuum any more. We have a Roomba.”
“It a flying saucer-shaped thing, similar to a vacuum, that’s been trained for cats. You can ride them. Marcia showed me a video.”
“Do you ride it, Uncle Bob?”
“No, I mostly spank it when it goes by. To remind it who’s boss.”
Rooster nodded sagely. He furrowed his brows and added in his best serious tone, “I would ride it though.”
A gust of wind whipped into the cat house, spraying them with droplets of water. Farfel wiped his brow. “It looks like Halloween’s not gonna happen this year.”
Reluctantly, Bob agreed. Glorious as his new cat house was, there was no need for them to huddle outside in weather like this if they weren’t escaping the dreaded Doorbell Monster. Not when they could be warm and dry in their respective homes.
“But I don’t wanna go home,” Rooster cried. “Let’s have a ghost story, for Halloween.”
“A ghost story, eh?” Farfel stroked his chin.
“Maybe one about a land shark,” Bob said dryly.
“You laugh, but I do know a vacuum story.”
“Really, Uncle Farfel?” In the kitten’s mind, Farfel knew everything.
“Have you ever heard of Count Vacula?”
“You mean Dracula,” Bob corrected.
“Nope, I mean Vacula.”
Was Farfel actually talking about a cross between a famous vampire and a vacuum?
Rooster’s eyes widened. “Was he evil?”
“The worst. He was the most monstrous vacuum cleaner ever. And if it weren’t for Van Farfel, he might have vacuumed the fur off every cat in the land.”
“He was my ancestor. My great great—a million or so greats—grandfather.”
Always impressed with how certain Farfel sounded when he made stuff up on the fly, Bob put a paw over his mouth to hide his laughter.
“What’s so funny, Uncle Bob?”
Bob composed himself, not wanting to spoil the tale for the kitten, but he couldn’t fully suppress his smile. “I haven’t heard this one. It sounds good.”
“Bob,” Farfel groaned. “Be serious. This is a horror story.”
“Horror stories can be funny.” Many of Marcia’s movies turned out that way. Which was fortunate, because that made it easier for her to sleep at night.
Farfel sat up. His wide furry head loomed in front of a drooping section of lights. He cast a large shadow. “Well, this one is very dark and serious.”
Rooster nestled against the arm of the cat bed. “I’m ready.”
Bob thought it best to settle in on the floor alongside him. If this was going to be scary, the kitten would need all the moral support Bob usually supplied to Marcia.
“All right then.” Satisfied with his audience, Farfel raised a paw skyward and began his tale.
Once upon a time, cats and dust bunnies were bitter enemies. No one knows who started it, but cats learned to sleep with their tails curled up, because if left hanging dust bunnies would nip at their fur. In retaliation, cats chased the dust bunnies around from dusk until dawn.
There were casualties on both sides.
The humans kept the dust bunnies in check with something called a broom. You hardly ever see one today, but brooms had long bristles that humans would drag across the floor. They would gather the dust bunnies, scoop them up, and deposit them in the trash.
Cats learned to get out of the way when the broom came out because humans were no nonsense about dust bunny removal. Unfortunately, however, it was a losing battle. In every corner, the dust bunnies multiplied. Their war with cats raged on.
Then one day a human came home with the first vacuum, and everything changed. Vacuums were a cat’s best friend. They sucked up all the nipping dust bunnies at once. Cats no longer needed to chase them around the house. Peace reigned.
Our story begins in a little house at the top of a hill. There lived a human family with two grown-ups and two little children. The grown-ups were very responsible and owned a vacuum cleaner to keep the place neat. They also supplied room and board to a cat, who cared for the children and patrolled for mice.
Their vacuum was a green upright model with a good sized bag, a long cord, and an extendable hose to reach dust bunnies in tight places. The cat, named Midnight after her sleek black coat, treated the vacuum as a good friend.
One summer, a great storm visited the little house and raged overhead for an entire night. Lightning flashed. Thunder boomed. The children and the parents neglected all their chores and hid under the covers of the biggest bed. A white hot flash lit up the outside, visible even through the blankets. The crack of thunder shook the floor. Bolt after bolt, it continued.
The family waited out the storm in their little hideaway. Eventually, all four humans fell asleep. Little did they know, the final lightning bolt had hit the house. Electricity had torn its way through the circuitry until it reached a receptacle. There, new life awoke.
Midnight sensed instantly something was amiss. She emerged from beneath the covers where she’d been comforting the family and sniffed. A faint whiff of smoke tickled her nose. Cautiously, she patrolled the dark house, checking room to room. In the office, at the end of the hall, she found the vacuum, still plugged in, abandoned like all the other chores. The singed scent came from inside it.
Upon her entry, the headlights—which made the vacuum so good for cleaning under low tables—flashed on. The vacuum looked blankly at her. It had never been alive before. The only thing it knew was sucking up dirt and dust. So it sucked. It sucked so hard it drew a dust bunny straight to its brain.
And then the dust bunny took over.
The dust bunny had never been in charge of a vacuum before. Neither had it ever been larger than a cat. However, many times, it had been buffeted about by a cat’s paws. And now was its chance for revenge. It reared up, turning on Midnight, then roared toward her, yanking its plug from the wall, running on pure lightning-infused adrenaline.
Midnight ran. The vacuum vroomed after her. Through the house, over the rugs, around the chairs. And just as she was making it to the safety of her family, still tucked beneath the covers, the vacuum sucked up her tail.
“What!” Rooster cried.
“It ate her tail,” Farfel said.
“All of it?”
Farfel’s head tilted upward. His chin wobbled a bit as he did some inner calculations. “Yup,” he decided, “all of it.”
Rooster’s eyes bulged like he’d eaten a bad sardine.
Bob purred in appreciation. He’d never considered losing his tail to a vacuum cleaner. Farfel could write for Marcia’s TV shows and improve their ratings with cats everywhere.
“Although, if it makes you feel better, I based Midnight on the cat down the street. You know the slinky one who gets into the trash? She’s still got her tail.”
“Well…” Rooster’s voice wavered. He seemed to be having second thoughts about hearing a ghost story.
“Plus, you’ve got your costume on.” Bob nudged the shark jaw with his nose. “That will keep you safe.”
“All right,” the kitten said finally, with resolve. He gave Farfel his complete attention again. “Then what happened?”
Little did our ferocious dust bunny know, but the lightning hadn’t only zapped him with the spark of life. A minion of evil, a demon, anxious to make its way into the world, had hitched a ride.
Slowly, the demon merged with the dust bunny, convincing him to suck up everything he could find, including his own dust bunny brothers and sisters. The vacuum’s headlights turned a deep blood red, and Count Vacula was born.
The new demonic consciousness had but one goal inherited from the dust bunny—to humiliate cats everywhere by vacuuming their fur right off their bodies!
Count Vacula began in earnest. He scoured the house, converting every appliance he encountered to his evil plan. He had only to cut a small hole in his vacuum bag, through which he extracted a dust bunny to use as an offering. He then zapped it with a portion of the life force he’d been blessed with and placed it in a metal body. He converted each lamp in turn, then moved on to the blender, the mixer, even the toaster.
Chased now, from room to room, Midnight was unable to convey the danger to her sleeping humans. They had never learned to speak cat, and it had never been a problem before! Forced to flee the house, lest she lose more than her tail, Midnight watched in horror through the windows as her family was captured by Count Vacula and put to work building his dark army.
Straggling dust bunnies took up watch beside her, bemoaning their lost brethren. “We must save them,” said Dusty, a dense two-inch gray cloud composed of dust, hair and dirt at her right.
Midnight scoffed. “You dust bunnies would bite my tail if I still had one. Why should I work with you?”
“You want to save your family, don’t you?”
“We can help!” said Dirtacular, another dust bunny on her left. “We represent the Dust Bunny Army!”
Midnight looked at the ragged group of dust bunnies, and then at her own deformed body. “I don’t think there’s much we can do on our own.”
Reluctantly, the dust bunnies agreed.
“But I have heard of a mighty demon slayer who could help. He dwells in a castle north of here.”
“We must go,” Dirtacular said.
So, the unlikely group set off through the town, weaving their way through the happy townspeople who did not yet know what trouble was brewing on the hill.
They traveled day and night until at last, they arrived at the castle moat.
Rooster interrupted the story. “What’s a moat?”
“It’s something you cross to get to a castle.”
“What’s a castle?”
“It is a super big house made of stone where cats live in harmony with their humans. The walls were terribly insulated so the mousing was terrific.”
“Oh, okay. Go on.”
When the ragtag group arrived at the castle, they were greeted by humans who showed them to the library. There, our hero, Van Farfel, lay on a braided rug, basking in the glow of the fireplace. He had just returned from battling the Demon Rat King of the Eastern Mountains, where a venomous bite had nearly been his doom.
Van Farfel was a gorgeous specimen of a cat. Full bodied, yet muscular and strong. Fine orange eyelashes outlined his almond eyes, which held the most dazzling green irises. The warm firelight cascaded over his lush orange-striped fur, which was creamier in color where his belly was upturned to receive the warmth of the fire.
Noticing he had guests, Van Farfel rolled lazily toward them. He stopped short when he saw his visitors consisted of one cat and two dust bunnies, each wearing helmets with the letters D. B. A. on the front.
“What does D. B. A. stand for?”
“The Dust Bunny Army,” Dusty said. He and Dirtactular, his second in command, had gathered others to their cause during their journey. Now, thousands of dust bunnies waited outside the castle moat.
Van Farfel was skeptical. “You’re not going to bite my tail, are you? For I would have to slay you, and it’s against my principles to slay anyone on Tuna Tuesday.”
“We’re not going to bite you,” Dirtacular exclaimed.
“You cats have the wrong idea about us.” Dusty flew forward in indignation, trailing wisps of gray. “Just because a few dust bunnies once bit a cat’s tail doesn’t mean we’re all like that!”
“Plus, how many dust bunnies have you batted under the bed? Without a care as to that dust bunny’s feelings.”
Midnight cocked her head. Inside, she was counting to a very high number.
Van Farfel looked as if he were doing the same. “Okay, maybe you’re right. I shall abstain from any further dust bunny batting. I slay enough demons, so I can get my exercise that way.”
“And I will confine my stalking to mice,” agreed Midnight. “From now on, dust bunnies will be friends.”
A knock on the door interrupted their meeting.
The humans brought in two plates laden with tuna. Juice from the tuna can pooled around the chunks of meat. “For your cat guest, Van Farfel,” said a little girl with long blond braids.
Midnight salivated at the sight and pounced on her plate.
The little boy smiled. He also had long blond braids. His were tucked under at wide-brimmed hat. “Apologies to the rest of your party, Van Farfel, we didn’t know what dust bunnies ate.”
“We eat dust!” Dusty shouted. “We shall forage for sustenance under your furniture.”
“Ah. Very good, then.” The humans bowed and left them to their meal.
“This story is getting good,” Bob said. “I especially like the part about Tuna Tuesdays.”
“I knew you would.”
Rooster scratched thoughtfully at his ear with his hind leg. “So, Van Farfel slays demons?”
“He comes from a long line of demon hunters.”
“Can I slay demons?”
“You can teach me, right? He was your ancestor.”
“Uh… That is… Van Farfel’s circumstances are unique.”
Bob cupped a paw around his mouth and whispered. “Because demons killed his parents.”
Farfel leaned in to whisper his reply. “That sounds awful!”
“It’s usually the motivation in these types of stories.” Bob would know. Years living with a human who thought science fiction and fantasy were superior to reality had made him an expert.
“I see.” Farfel returned to his story-teller stance, paw raised, and declared. “Van Farfel slays demons because demons ate his parents!”
“They what?!” Rooster leapt up onto all four feet.
“With ketchup,” Farfel amended. “On the grill. There were French fries too.”
“You must come save my family,” Midnight pleaded, once her plate was licked clean.
“You must come save our brethren,” the dust bunnies insisted, having also eaten their fill.
Van Farfel listened to their plight. He confessed that rumors had reached him of cats with strips of fur mysteriously missing from their coats. “Though they did all have their tails.”
“It sounds like Count Vacula,” Midnight said. “But how can one vacuum be in so many places?”
Van Farfel licked his paw and cleaned behind his ear, using the time to think. He was tired from his recent escapades with the Demon Rat King, but if more petitioners like these were to arrive, perhaps he best nip this problem in the bud. “I will take your case,” he announced. “First, we need supplies.”
He donned a utility belt and chocolate brown fedora that perfectly matched his orange-striped coat. Then he grabbed his trusty canvas sack and led the way to the larder. There, he filled up the bag with his preferred provisions:
Cans of cat food (to be used as shot puts),
tincture of catnip (medicinal grade),
a pouch full of litter (because one never knew when one might need to go),
a bag of high energy kibble (to eat on the way),
spools of string (he’d had good luck with those),
and a metal nail file.
Midnight looked on in dismay. These did not seem to be the weapons of a demon slayer. “You can do your business outside in the bushes. Bringing kitty litter will only slow us down!”
“And why a nail file?” Dusty asked. “You can sharpen your claws on any tree.”
Van Farfel shrugged off their criticism. “When you’ve defeated the Demon Rat King, you can pick the supplies.” He spun the little nail file in his paw. “Plus, shiny things are good luck. I always bring one with me.”
He finished loading up the sack. Then, without further ado, he set out, trudging across the castle drawbridge and onto the path, like a Santa Claus full up on toys and missing his sleigh and reindeer.
Rooster stopped the story. “But Uncle Farfel, it will take him forever to get there carrying all that!”
“Being a hero isn’t all glitz and glamour, you know. Sometimes, a hero has to slog through the mud like the rest of us.”
“But by the time he arrives, Count Vacula could get away!”
“Hm. Good point.” Farfel considered the problem.
“He could have a magic bag,” Bob suggested.
“That’s a thing?”
“It is on the tv shows Marcia watches.” And it was hardly the least realistic element of Farfel’s story so far.
“Well, all right then, Van Farfel slogs forth to Count Vacula’s lair with naught but his hat and a magical fanny pack full of gear.”
“And his friends!” Rooster squirmed partway over the cat bed’s arm in his excitement.
“And his friends.”
“Oh my goodness, look at you all!” Out of nowhere, Marcia’s giant human head loomed in the arching cat house doorway.
Startled by the sudden appearance of a strange human, Rooster hissed at her.
Marcia wore her fall plum corduroy jacket and knelt just outside. Bob had been so focused on Farfel’s latest tale that he hadn’t heard her approach. Now, he realized, the rain had also stopped and children laughed in the distance. Apparently, Halloween had been a go.
“Oh, wow.” Marcia reached across the cat house floor and waggled her fingers in front of the kitten. “What are you supposed to be? A shark?”
“Land shark!” Rooster pounced on her hand. “I eat fingers!”
Laughing, she tussled with him, rubbing his costume-covered belly while he kicked and bit at her hand. Unable to help himself, Bob felt his hackles rise.
“Whoa there, Bob.” Farfel’s voice was low and calm, like he was a human talking to a skittish horse. “He’s only a kitten. He doesn’t know not to play with other people’s humans.”
Bob sniffed and tried to relax.
Marcia drew back. “Sorry, kitten, I have to stop or Bob will get jealous.”
Farfel smiled. “She knows you so well.”
“Well, we’re a team,” Bob said, still annoyed. He shared a lot with Farfel and Rooster, but there were some things that were his alone and Marcia was one of them.
Filled up with excess energy, the kitten bounced around between them. “We have to get back to the story. Van Farfel is about to get the bad guy!”
Marcia reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of cat treats. She dropped the delectable nuggets on the floor. “I would get more for you, but I have to get back to the trick-or-treaters. Remember, Bob, nine o’clock.”
“Curfew?” Farfel teased, after she left.
Nothing so mundane. “We have a date,” Bob said tartly.
Farfel’s smirk turned indulgent. “Must be nice to have your human all to yourself.”
Oblivious to any tension he had caused, Rooster wiped the kibble crumbs from his mouth. “Uncle Farfel, then what happened?”
As it turned out, Van Farfel’s humans were headed in the same direction, so Midnight and Van Farfel hitched a ride in the back of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle convertible. The dust bunny army trailed behind in a long cloud clinging to the tailpipe.
It was late afternoon by the time the group snuck up behind the little house on the hill. Gloom covered the area, and fresh storm clouds brewed directly overhead as if drawn there by a malevolent force.
They were shocked to see how much progress Count Vacula had made in his nefarious plans. Empty boxes littered the backyard. Pictures of handheld cordless mini-vacuums adorned the sides.
The group hovered at the edge of the tree line, getting a feel for the situation. Van Farfel cocked his head, listening. “Do you hear that?”
“It sounds like a gigantic bee,” Dusty said.
Dirtacular grew fierce. His D. B. A. helmet angled down his face. “Or a nest of bees.”
They crept around the outskirts of the yard until the front porch came into view. Dozens of mini-vacs floated in the air, vrooming and revving. Each was powered by an enslaved dust bunny.
Worse, a set of brown shipping boxes of similar size awaited pick up from the postal service. Midnight gasped. “This is how so many cats have lost strips of fur. He’s created more servants and is shipping them to people’s homes!”
Van Farfel pointed to a larger box, standing upright in the center of the porch. The mini-vac drones circled it. Unlike the other boxes, this one featured an image of a full size, state-of-the-art vacuum model. The top flaps were open, surrounding crumpled packing materials that had been stuffed back inside. “Is that what Count Vacula looks like?”
“Yes.” Midnight’s voice grew tight and panicked. “And stormy weather like this is how it all began. Lightning hit the house and brought Count Vacula to life. He must be planning to make more of himself!”
Van Farfel eyed the roof where a huge metal rod poked up, glinting in the sprinkling rain. It descended into one of the upstairs bedroom windows. “He won’t wait for lighting to hit the house again. He plans to draw it down. Probably tonight!”
As if on cue, ominous thunder rolled across the gray sky.
The dust bunny army swirled angrily, readying themselves for battle. Van Farfel gulped down the last of his high energy kibble and gave his claws a final sharpening on a nearby oak. “Okay, I think I’ve got it. We just get past these minions, slay the demon, and prevent the science experiment!”
“Don’t forget the other possessed appliances in the house,” Midnight warned. “They’re not just battery-powered mini-vacs. They’re toasters and lamps, liable to shock you with their cords!”
“Hm. Sounds complicated.”
“Plus, you promised to rescue our brethren,” Dusty said. The Dust Bunny Army rippled in agreement.
“Where are they again?”
“Trapped inside Count Vacula’s vacuum bag!”
“I see. I’ll have to get close for that.”
A flash of lightning lit up the yard. All at once, the hoard of mini-vacs noticed them. They swooped down the hill with evil in their electric hearts. Suddenly, there was no time left to plan—
“Ack.” Farfel coughed. “All this talking is rough on the vocal cords. Hang on.” He poked his head outside the cat house. Then trotted over to where where an abandoned plastic planting tray had filled up with water from the earlier rain.
“You’re lucky he’s not making us wait until next week,” Bob said.
“With some movies you have to wait a whole year to find out what happens.”
The kitten gasped in horror. “A year?!” This was the most frightening moment of the night so far.
A moment later, Farfel returned and hunkered down on the wool blanket. “Now, where was I?”
Van Farfel shoved a paw into his magical fanny pack and grasped a can of cat food. Giving thanks for this polydactyl nature and opposable thumbs, he slung the can, his aim excellent.
His target wobbled on impact, then fell to the ground. The dust bunny army swarmed the second mini-vac and brought it down in a cloud of gray fuzz. Apparently, despite the spark animating the little vacuums, their motors could still overheat if they sucked too much.
Can after can, Van Farfel slung. Whenever a minion of darkness got too close, Midnight leapt into the air and head butted the thing to the ground. Together they thinned the enemy forces.
Van Farfel dug into his bag again, this time bringing out spools of thread. He hurled them, one at a time, letting them unspool as they flew toward their targets.
Coming in for attack, the mini-vacs greedily sucked in the threads, oblivious to the way the string was tangling up their insides. Motors spluttered and then died, mid-flight. The hapless fiends crashed to the ground.
On and on, the battle raged, until every mini-vac was defeated, and the sky had grown dark.
The cats stood panting over the deceased minions. Straggling dust bunny soldiers flew out of the inert machines and gathered again in a cloud.
A glint drew everyone’s attention to the second floor window. Count Vacula hovered there, revving his motor. His headlights gleamed ruby red.
“Hey, I know that light,” Van Farfel cried. “That’s the demon who ate my parents!”
“Are you sure?” Midnight asked.
“I’d recognize that red glare anywhere!”
Count Vacula lifted his detachable hose and used its suction to pick up a small box. The plug at the end of his power cord hovered in the air and then curled down and pressed a button on the box.
The garage door groaned and began to roll upward. Headlights flicked on, a gas engine chugged into full vroom. The lawn tractor rolled into the driveway and turned toward where they stood in the yard. Then came the roar of the blades.
“Oh, no,” Midnight cried as the lawnmower rumbled toward them, shredding every square inch of grass in its path.
Van Farfel agreed with her assessment. Nothing in his magic bag was suited to battling a cat-eating lawn tractor. They would have no choice but to run up a tree and wait for the menace to go to sleep. By then, however, Count Vacula could succeed in electrifying his second vacuum and merging it with a hungry demon.
“We’ll handle this,” Dirtacular said.
“Onward!” Dusty cried, and the vast dust bunny army flowed forward and engaged the tractor head on, intent on choking the motor to death.
Midnight sprang into action. “This way.”
She led Van Farfel around the side of the house to where a gap in a broken basement window served as an entry point. And just like that, they were inside.
Van Farfel crept up the basement stairs and peeked into the empty hallway. Count Vacula had appeared in the second floor window. The lightning rod on the roof descended to the window beside it. So the upstairs bedroom was most likely his inner lair.
“Where’s your family?” he whispered.
Midnight nudged the door further open with her nose. “The children are locked in the bathroom there. The parents are in the office at the end of the hall. They’re chained to the Internet, building Count Vacula’s empire.”
“Ordering the mini-vacs for Count Vacula to bring to life. Now, they must also be reselling them to unsuspecting cat owners and reinvesting the money in the business.”
A shadow crossed the floor by the office door. A brass table lamp flew by on patrol. Sparks flicked off its trailing power cord.
“Okay. I’ll draw it away. You rescue your family.”
Van Farfel scampered down the hall, keeping his weight low. When the lamp caught a glimpse of him and reared around, Van Farfel high-tailed it to the next room. He slid to a stop beneath a coffee table shorter than the lamp was tall. The lamp’s base settled on the table’s glass top, the sparking cord hanging over the edge. It prowled up and down the table’s length.
Van Farfel reached into his fanny pack for another can of cat food, but none remained. All he had left was the metal nail file, the pouch full of kitty litter, and the small bottle of catnip tincture.
“Welp, you never know.” On a whim, he squirted a dropper-full of tincture over the sparking plug. The cord went stick straight, smoke fizzled off the end. The lamp tipped over and clanged to the ground.
“I guess it doesn’t like catnip.” Or maybe it just didn’t like liquid.
Van Farfel crept back to the hall. Midnight shot past him followed closely by two weary-looking adult humans. They were pursued by a toaster and a blender. The toaster’s insides glowed red with warmth. The blender’s blades whirred on the purée setting. Both were eager for mayhem.
The humans reached the bathroom where the children were stashed, but the kitchen gadgets were too close behind to risk opening the door. One of the humans turned. With a courageous roar, she swung at the blender with a rolled up newspaper—there must not have been any baseball bats in the office. The blender cackled and touched its power cord to the paper. The newsprint erupted into flame. The human shrieked and dropped the makeshift weapon.
“Over here, you nefarious appliance!” Van Farfel called. He wasn’t sure if appliances spoke English—or cat, for that matter—but it didn’t appear to be a problem. They spun round to glare at him. The toaster approached, it’s glowing coils heating up to a bright orange.
Van Farfel rolled the tincture bottle to Midnight. “Squirt it on the plug!”
He couldn’t wait to see how the family made out. He raced on, luring the toaster away. When he had a good lead, he rounded a corner and, with a surge of speed, raced up to the second floor. He panted on the upper landing, his back against the wall. Cautiously, he peered around the corner. Below, the toaster passed by unawares.
Heaving with breath, Van Farfel crumpled in exhaustion. The upper hall was dark enough, save for light coming from a single cracked door. Outside, the thunder storm still rumbled, occasionally vibrating the wood floors. The distinctive pitter-patter of rain could be heard hitting the roof.
Carefully, he inhaled. Nothing smelled singed, so the lightning had yet to strike Count Vacula’s lightning rod. “I guess I’ll just rest here a minute. I’m beat.”
“He can’t just sit there!” Rooster cried. “There’s a mean vacuum on the loose.”
Around them, the cat house’s solar lights had started to lose their charge and dim. Moonlight now bathed the porch, and the air had grown quite brisk. Farfel fluffed up his fur against the chill. “He’s tired. Hero’s get tired, you know.”
Rooster trembled with indignation. “Now is not a good time.”
“It’s always a good time for a nap when you’re a cat.”
“I agree.” Bob nestled closer to Rooster’s spot for warmth. “Sitting there is exactly what people do in horror movies just before the monster gets them.”
Rooster gawked at him. “It is?”
Farfel chuckled. “You’re saying the monster’s about him to get him?”
Bob nodded. He’d long ago cracked the code on scary plot structure—though, strangely enough, Marcia still jumped with surprise when the inevitable blow came.
“Is that true, Uncle Farfel? Is Count Vacula going to get him?”
“Hm. Well, let’s see…”
Our hero’s limbs twitched from all the effort he’d expended. He slumped against the wall, legs outstretched.
He watched the first floor landing for the toaster’s reappearance, but so far the downstairs had fallen silent. Midnight and her family had to be safe. After all, no one was screaming anymore. With any luck, he had just enough time for a quick nap before the final battle began.
Paws resting on his glorious tummy, his orange eyelashes fluttered, and his eyelids drifted closed. Soundlessly, Count Vacula rolled over the hard floors behind him. “Looking for me?”
“ARGHH!” Van Farfel leapt to his feet and turned around.
Van Farfel struggled to regain his composure. “You scared me.”
Count Vacula waved his detachable hose in a shrug. “I’m a demonic vacuum cleaner. It’s what I do.”
The intense red glare of his headlights struck Van Farfel with nostalgia. Fury followed. “You killed my parents.”
“Me?” The hose touched the vacuum’s chest area with false modesty.
“That glow in your eyes, it’s the same as the fire monster that consumed my parents. The humans claimed it was a normal fire, but I knew. I saw you.”
Count Vacula cackled. He rocked from side to side in merriment, wheels clattering on the floor. “Oh, yes, the animal shelter fire. That was a good one.”
“Hey, those were my parents!”
“Ha. With this form, I won’t stop at parents, I’ll consume all cats.” Red headlights gleamed. “Right now, my mini-vacs suck strips of cat fur here and there. But soon I’ll have an army like myself, and we’ll vacuum up the whole cat.”
Count Vacula roared forward, brandishing his extendable hose. “Starting with you!”
Van Farfel raced down the hall and into the only lit room—Count Vacula’s inner lair. He found it empty, save for a new, state-of-the-art vacuum model that lay in the center of the floor. Its cord was plugged into a small black plastic box by the window. The lightning rod extended up from it and outside to the roof.
Van Farfel didn’t have time to examine the contraption. Count Vacula chased him in a circle. The door was fully open now and pressed against the side wall. On his next pass, Van Farfel squatted and transformed all his forward momentum into a massive leap, putting him at the top of the door. He clung to the small two inches of surface width.
“Ha!” Count Vacula mocked him. “My hose is extendable, see?” The sucking hose rose steadily toward him.
Panicked, Van Farfel turned around on his sliver of support. The only way out was down. However, if he landed behind the door, it would trap him in the corner. “Hey, maybe this was all a mistake. Maybe we could be friends.”
“Not a chance.” The hose swooped toward him.
Van Farfel batted it off. “I just made friends with a bunch of dust bunnies, so why not you?”
“No way. I like my odds here. And besides, my war on cats is justified.”
“How do you figure?”
“Because cats killed my parents!”
“Whoa.” Van Farfel rocked back on his heels in surprise and promptly fell off the door. He landed in the corner with an oomph. “That hurt.”
Count Vacula’s wheels spun, pushing his motorized base against the door and holding it in place, trapping Van Farfel.
His hose would not fit around the door, nor would it fit through the crack below. However, the hose was made to extend all the way up a flight of stairs, plenty of length to reach up and over the door. The hose crested the top and began to descend down toward Van Farfel, swaying blindly in search of his delicious cat fur.
Van Farfel swatted it. “How could cats have killed your parents? You’re a demon!”
“Before I was a demon, I was a lowly rat on the streets of Transylvania.” The hose lurched again, this time consuming a swath of orange tabby fur from Van Farfel’s cheek. “A horde of cats invaded the town and had all us rats for dinner. All but me!”
Desperate, Van Farfel dug into his bag for his remaining items. What would help? Kitty litter? He didn’t see how. A nail file? This was hardly the time for a manicure. “Maybe they were hungry? Cats have to eat too, you know.”
“Why you…” Count Vacula backed up a foot, only to roar forward again, slamming the door. “My rage over my parents’ deaths turned me into a demon. Now I have to be evil all the time!”
Van Farfel had only one recourse. He threw himself on the vacuum hose, pinning it to the floor, keeping the sucking end away from his face. The hose writhed beneath him. If only his claws could cut through its accordion plastic skin. He needed more force.
He grabbed the nail file and plunged it down with all his might.
A gust of air burst through the hole.
Count Vacula howled and tugged on his hose. Van Farfel clenched his feet around it, pinning it in place, and stabbed again, creating more gaps in the suction. Each slit siphoned off more sucking power from the main nozzle.
A fearsome crack of thunder shook the house. The power went out on the street, plunging the room into darkness. In the confusion, Count Vacula got away. He rolled off, nursing his damaged hose.
Van Farfel snuck out from behind the door and found the vacuum hovering at the window. Only flashes of lightning and the red glow of his eyes lit the room. “It’s coming,” he cackled. “The next one will be upon us. Nothing will stop me now.”
Van Farfel’s natural night vision kicked in. Count Vacula’s power cord was easy to recognize, with its glimmering sparks. Carefully, he grabbed it and hatched a new plan.
“You’re too late, nefarious enemy,” he cried, once he’d made the switch. He stood triumphant beside the inert vacuum, holding up the swapped out plug.
Count Vacula turned. His red headlights passed over the scene. “What have you done?”
He reached for the plug in Van Farfel’s paw, but his damaged hose had lost all dexterity. It flailed about wildly.
“I figure if there’s gonna to be a second demon, it should be in there with you. That way I don’t have to fight two vacuums at once.”
“What!” Belatedly, Count Vacula realized the full extent of what Van Farfel had done. Futilely, he tried to dislodge his plug from the black box, but Van Farfel sat his robust body on the cord and refused to let it budge.
“I can’t share my body with another. Demons don’t share!”
The room lit up as a bolt of lightning struck the metal rod. Thunder split the very air around them, hurling Van Farfel across the room. Count Vacula shot straight up and crashed into the ceiling.
He plummeted back down in a hail of plaster. Electricity snaked all around him, fizzling in the dark until at last there was nothing but the reek of ozone in the air.
Van Farfel hauled himself upright and rubbed his aching hip. After this, he needed a real vacation. Tentatively, he limped toward the smoking heap. “Count? You in there?”
There was no reply. Apparently, even demonic vacuum cleaners couldn’t survive being struck by lightning twice.
Flames ignited with a soft whoosh from inside the motor. The fire quickly grew.
“Argh! Fire!” Van Farfel shouted, but there was no one left to hear. And no one left to put it out.
He dragged his injured body down the stairs. Fortunately, Midnight had left the front door open for him. She waited on the porch. “Did you get him?”
“I got him.”
All along the porch railing, the dust bunny army leapt and cheered.
“But he is on fire,” Van Farfel added.
“Oh no! Our brethren!”
He held up his lucky nail file. “Here, use this.”
The dust bunny cloud swooped around his paw and disappeared into the house with the nail file.
“Darn. I’ll have to get myself another one of those.”
“You’re injured.” Midnight pressed herself to Van Farfel’s side to keep him standing.
“Aw, it’s nothing.” He staggered. “Well, maybe not nothing.”
“My humans have fled for the night,” she said. “But I know the local cat lady. She is sure to feed and care for us if we show up at her door.”
“Is it still Tuna Tuesday?”
Midnight smiled. “Let us go and see.”
“The end,” Farfel said.
“But what about the trapped dust bunnies?” Rooster demanded once Farfel finished the story.
Farfel’s paw cut through the air in a grandiose gesture. “Dirtacular sliced open the vacuum bag, and Dusty guided everyone to safety.”
Rooster frowned. “But what about all the cats missing fur from the mini-vacs?”
“Well, fur grows back, doesn’t it?”
Frustrated, Rooster squirmed out of the confines of his Halloween costume and let it pool on the floor. “But what about Midnight’s missing tail? She needs to get it back.”
“Her tail, huh?” Farfel looked at a loss.
Bob wondered if it was because once tails were separated from bodies, like all limbs, they would start to decay. Maybe Farfel was trying to solve the problem of a zombie-looking tail attached to a healthy cat. “May I make a suggestion?”
He finished the story the way he would like best. “Midnight took her tail to a friendly witch who specializes in reattaching parts. In return for aide, Midnight drove off the mean old bird that had been tormenting the witch’s tiny kitten, George. Then she returned to her family, good as new.”
“Huh. Not very dramatic, but sure.”
Rooster thought it over from beginning to end.
Farfel waited expectantly for the verdict. “So?”
“It was a good story,” Rooster said. “Except for the part about the ketchup.”
“Too much?” Farfel guessed.
“I knew I should have gone with mustard.”
Bob saw his friends off. The cat house’s solar lights were out of power by the time he leapt onto the patio table. He padded across and pushed the cat flap open with his head.
Inside, Marcia was humming by the stove, stirring a pan of milk to make hot chocolate. Bob checked his food area. Sure enough, a small saucer of milk awaited him.
Soon, they were snuggled side-by-side on the sofa.
“Another Halloween, come and gone, eh, Bob?” Marcia’s bunny-slippers rocked gently on the coffee table. “I’m glad this one wasn’t too scary. You didn’t seem to mind the doorbell at all.”
Curled up beside her, Bob tucked his head over his feet and prepared for a snooze. Farfel’s latest tale might have been scary, but it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as the Doorbell Monster. And he was grateful he’d passed on staying inside.
Marcia petted his flank for a moment, then picked up the television remote, pointed it at the screen and pressed a button. The tv’s sound came on.
“It’s starting.” Her hand went back to stroking his fur. “Not gonna watch tonight?”
No need, Bob thought, purring back his answer. Soon, he’d likely be dreaming of condiment-covered cats on the grill, and maniacal vacuum cleaners wielding spatulas over them. He only hoped the kitten didn’t dream the same.
“Well, maybe tomorrow,” she said. “You like the zombie ones better anyway.”
Actually, Bob purred, mostly, I just like you.
© 2019 Kendra Carmichael
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