Prompt as Hell with KJ and Budgie #3 – Valentine’s Day with Vlad
KJ and I give each other writing prompts each Wednesday, and we have to write a piece based on that prompt, no matter what it is. We are not allowed to reveal the prompts.
This is Prompt as Hell with KJ Marshall and Budgie Bigelow.
Valentine’s Day with Vlad
I walked into my editor’s office with a pad and paper in hand. I was the rookie reporter at Million and One Magazine, and I was struggling to keep up with the seasoned professionals. Million and One was an odd periodical, and that was putting it lightly. Some of the stuff I had to cover since taking the job was out of my wheelhouse, but I never shied from a challenge. That was something Jim Bailey knew well, and he was poised to take advantage of it.
“You wanted to see me, boss?” I asked, stepping inside his office with the view of Century City behind him. I had enjoyed that view since moving to Century from Connecticut. The only view I had from my small apartment was of the building across the alley, and most of what I saw was some fat old lady bathing herself in the sink. It was mesmerizing.
“Sit down,” Mr. Bailey said, not bothering to remove the unlit cigar from his mouth. It was a nasty habit, but it kind of suited him. He reminded me a stumpy version of Tony Soprano, all guy and little hair. “I have a special task for you, Bigelow. You know that time machine we got our hands on?”
“Yeah,” I said. I have apprehensive to continue the conversation. One of the reporters had found the time machine while doing a piece on a mad scientist who had pleaded guilty to statutory rape and sexual assault on high-school kids. It turned out he was using the time machine to travel back to when their parents were the same age to get the kids to have sex with their moms. I’ll never get the hoops these perverts jump through to get their rocks off.
“I’m not interviewing that crazy professor, am I?” I asked.
“No,” Mister Bailey replied. “We have a focus on Vlad the Impaler coming up in a few weeks. I want you to travel back in time and interview him.”
“No shit?!” I blurted. I didn’t normally speak that way to a boss, but the request caught me off guard.
“We need this done by the end of the week,” Mister Bailey said, “so you’re heading back tomorrow, nine AM sharp. Don’t disappoint me.”
That was the end of the meeting. Mister Bailey started shuffling paperwork on his desk to signal that he was busy and didn’t have time for me to ask questions or nitpick the assignment. It wasn’t as if I wanted to get berated by him anyway.
I did a quick and dirty Google search for Vlad the Impaler that afternoon. I knew little about him other than he impaled people and was the basis for Dracula. I wrote down a number of questions and finished up for the day. Tomorrow was going to be nuts, and it was Valentine’s Day too.
I met the boys in the lab the next morning. Yes, Million and One Magazine has a tech lab. You can’t stay on the cutting edge of journalism without the use of teleportation and whatnot. Getting the time travel machine was the feather in their cap. The brass crowed about it every chance they got. Rupert Murdoch didn’t even have one!
“You know the rules, right?” Kyle asked. He was the head geek in the lab. He wasn’t happy about me using the time machine, not like I wanted to. “Just do your interview. Don’t give anyone any information about the future, especially if it can change the course of history.”
“Yes,” I sighed. “And time flows here while I’m in the past. I saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you know. The only thing I need to know is how I’m going to understand this guy. I doubt he speaks English.”
“We’ve outfitted you with a babelfish implant on your first day,” Kyle replied. “Remember?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. I’ll be able to understand them, and they’ll understand me. Isn’t unexplained technology of this era grand? “I guess I’m off then.”
“Guess so,” Kyle said, stepping aside so I could make my way to the machine. It stood ten feet tall, and it looked like a silver space ship. I didn’t think the people of the fifteenth century would take to having this touching down in their palace or whatever, but I was going to find out the hard way. I stepped inside and turned around to face the door.
“Wait,” I said. “This thing isn’t going to give me cancer, is it? Shouldn’t I be wearing a lead vest or a cup?”
“Bye,” Kyle said, hitting some buttons on the console in front of him. The door slammed shut, and I felt like I was floating for a moment. The sensation left, replaced with that of an elevator dropping and hitting the bottom floor. They really needed to put a chair and seatbelts in this thing.
The door to the time machine opened. I stepped out into the stony hallway of Vlad the Impaler’s castle. I realized I had worn a plaid shirt and khakis. If I was smart, I would have asked for period-appropriate clothes, but Million and One probably wouldn’t have sprung for it. Mister Bailey was nothing if not a cheap bastard.
I had no idea where I was going. This was the most ill-conceived interview of all time. I thought back to how I got this job and how nobody would tell me how the guy before me left. I now assumed it was as a corpse left in some unknown era of time. I pushed those thoughts out of my head. I found myself in some open hallway. The walls were draped in red and black, and two guards, bearing spears, rushed toward me when I appeared. They were both shouting so much my babelfish implant couldn’t keep up with the translating.
“I come in peace!” I exclaimed, putting my hands above my head. I had panicked and couldn’t think of something else to say. I was a chubby mid-thirties writer, and I had no way to fight two of the Impaler’s guards if I wanted to. “I only want to talk to Vlad.”
The two looked at each other. I didn’t know how to address their boss properly, and I wondered how it sounded to their ears. I might have insulted them or their ruler. “Is Mister Impaler here?” I asked.
The guards remained silent. The looks they were giving me told me I had erred. Every fiber of common sense told me to haul ass back to the time machine and hope they didn’t spear me for my trouble. Somehow I stayed there, waiting for them to make a decision.
“Come,” one of them said. He led me down the hall and up another set of stone stairs. I made mental notes of paintings and statues so I would be able to find my way back. There was a chill to the castle, and I didn’t know if I was imagining it.
Finally, I came face to face with Vlad Dracula III, Vlad the Impaler. He stared at me, watching me with curiosity in his eyes.
“Hello,” I said. “My name is Budgie.”
“Why have you come?” Vlad asked.
I knew there was no point in lying. “I’ve travelled from the future,” I replied. “You have left an impression that has echoed through the ages, and I just want to ask a few questions so we can better understand your legacy.”
I had piled on a few extra layers of bullshit, but I could tell he had bought it. “What is it you would like to know?” Vlad asked.
I clicked the button on my digital recorder. “How did spending your teenage years as a hostage shape your political views when you became ruler?” I assked.
“Vengeance above honor,” was all Vlad was willing to tell me.
“OK,” I said. “In my time, they call you ‘the impaler.’ How does that nickname make you feel?”
“They call me that now!” Vlad exclaimed. “It makes me feel as if I should impale more people!” He raised his voice, so his guards could have a chuckle in my expense. “They shall talk of me more!”
I was getting to the harder questions, and I was breaking out in a cold sweat. I should have turned down this assignment. “Some view you as a monster, a vampire,” I said, trying not to trip over my words. “In fact, they call you Dracula, and that name is used often in vampiric lore. What do you want to say to them?”
“I would say to them that they are right,” Vlad replied. I could no longer tell if he was joking or not.
“So it’s true you drink human blood?” I asked.
Vlad smiled, telling me more than I needed to know.
I had one more question in mind, and then I’d make my exit from the throne-room and back to the time machine. “Some historians say you longed for immortality, but you fell short,” I said. “What precautions have you taken to stave off the inevitability of death?”
Vlad only stared at me, any sense of amusement long gone from his face. He stood, taking a step toward me. I backed away, knowing I was seeing the face that many saw as they were skewered upon wooden stakes. “You dare insult me by bringing up my death?” he asked. “Tell me, man who can travel through time, how do I die? If I know this information, I can better prevent what you called ‘the inevitability of death.'”
All my research told me was Vlad Dracula III was killed by his enemies, but the exact details were sketchy at best. I had also read somewhere that information of his death was falsified. I even read that he was decapitated, his head put on a stake and being displayed to prove he had actually been killed. I decided to give him a simplified version.
“I don’t know.”
“Surely, you know if I am still discussed in your time,” Vlad said. “Maybe you’ll talk as my stake skewers your body, putting on display outside my castle walls. Maybe you’ll tell me how I die in exchange to know how you die: quickly if you tell me; painfully if you don’t.”
“Fuck this!” I snapped, running the other way, pumping my legs as hard as I was able. My boots slapped against the stone floor as I left, chased by Vlad’s guards as he shouted after me. I found the stairs that led downward, and I continued my flight, aware of how close the guards were.
I found the time machine easier than I thought I would, and I jumped inside. I turned to see the guards giving chase, their ruler behind them. I mashed my hand against the button on the side of the wall, and I was plunged through time, the feeling of a being in a falling elevator bringing me back to my own time.
The door opened, and the capsule was filled with the florescent light of the Million and One lab. Kyle looked back at me. “Back so soon?” he asked.
I got up. I didn’t remember falling, but apparently I had taken a tumble in my travel back from the fifteenth century. “Shit,” I muttered. “That guy is nuts.”
“Did he try to impale you?” Kyle asked, an eyebrow cocked. For all the jerkiness he gave me before, he sure was interested in my story now that I had come back the way I had.
“They don’t call him ‘the impaler’ because of his My Little Pony collection,” I quipped.
Mister Bailey came charging into the lab. “Bigelow!” he said. “I’m glad I found you before you went back. We’re scrapping the piece on Vlad the Impaler. We’re going to do a story about diarrhea prevention instead.”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“We’re doing a whole motif,” Mister Bailey replied. “We’re pushing to get President Trump to designate March as ‘Anal Health Awareness Month.'”
I sighed. “I’m done,” I said, walking past Kyle and Mister Bailey. “I’m going back to Connecticut.”
“What I say?” Mister Bailey asked as I left.