Vinnie Galvoni wasn’t afraid of any broad. That’s what the street thug told himself as he ran desperately down a darkened, rain-soaked street, glancing warily over his shoulder. It’s so dark, he thought. No stars, no moon, not even a blasted streetlight. He took no comfort in the dark since, while he could not see, his pursuer could see effortlessly in the blackest night. She was also in far better shape than the mugger, and even in high-heeled boots she was keeping pace with him.
He stopped as he turned into an alley. This is it, he thought. If Nightshade saw me duck in here, I’m finished! Vinnie had barely managed to escape from the darling of darkness a couple of blocks back when the cries of his victim caught her attention. She had stopped to care for the older woman, and that act of charity had given Vinnie enough time to make a break for it. He grinned sheepishly as he squinted into the night. “Nobody. I lost her,” he said.
A woman in a pleated purple minidress, dark goggles, and matching boots smiled as she stepped out of the darkness, placing both hands on her hips. “Now, do I look lost to you?” she said in a mocking manner. “What’s wrong? You look so pale. Must be this weather. I hope you aren’t coming down with a cold.”
“Nightshade!” gasped Vinnie as he clenched his fists. He swung at her, only to smash his fist into the wall as she faded into a semi-solid shadow form.
She emerged again and casually spun around to drop him flat with one stunning kick. I must thank Liberty Belle for teaching me that move, she thought. Even Tiger never showed me that one.
Nightshade, whose real name was Eve Eden, referred to her former martial arts instructor from her childhood in Japan. Tetsuro “Tiger” Tanaka, the legendary martial arts master of Japan, had been the first of several teachers who had guided the young heiress in developing her latent skills. The CIA had also equipped her well with various gadgets to compliment her astonishing agility and keen mind, but her natural talent for becoming a living shadow was something beyond their ability to conceive. She owed that power to her origin as the princess of an other-dimensional magical kingdom known as the Land of the Nightshades. She had used each of her strengths to become a costumed champion who was admired the world over.
Now she sighed as she began to bend over to check on Vinnie. “They don’t make goons like they used to,” she said.
Before she could move, a shadow seemed to swallow her up, then faded away just as quickly, only to reveal a seemingly unchanged Nightshade. She smiled coldly and then walked away.
As her lithe figure vanished, Vinnie was left alone to gasp at his stroke of luck before fleeing into the night. “That chick is crazy,” he muttered to himself. “She clocked me and then just flounced off like she had no further use for me.”
He was right. The woman who coldly departed the alley had more important things to do than bring a mugger to justice.
Elsewhere, a dark castle loomed into view amidst thick woods and rocky crags. Wolves howled, and a storm raged without the ancient building, but within the creepy castle, a sultry figure curled up on a divan and spoke in heavily accented tones.
She was strikingly beautiful in a garish way. Her long red hair cascaded down on each side of her delicate but rather hungry features. She was deathly pale, and her ruby-red lips contrasted greatly with her inhuman pallor. She wore a red gown whose high-laced bodice rather demurely contrasted with the slits at each leg that revealed well-formed limbs above high-heeled red boots with gold braid. She smiled, revealing two fangs.
“Velcome, my dahlinks!” she said in an animated voice. “I am so very glad to see you! The weather is perfectly dismal, and eet ees a perfect evening for us to cuddle close for a frightening tale or two. I am your hostess, Countess R.H. Von Bludd, and this ees Scary Tales. Tonight we present Vincent Christopher in The Vampire and the Vigilante. I know who I’m rooting for.”
“And — cut! That’s a wrap,” said the director as the TV show finished taping the opening shots.
Countess Von Bludd jumped up and stalked off the set as her manager rushed in her wake, and a pair of flunkies hurried to soothe the temperamental actress’ ruffled feathers. “Reuben, I have to be at Prago’s for dinner at six-thirty!” she shrieked, her fake accent replaced by an American one. “I will not stay one minute beyond six o’clock. I don’t care how much it costs the station. They will learn to work within my schedule, or they’ll have to find another starlet to play their precious vampire hostess!”
Reuben Kinkirk smiled in a placating manner at his most demanding client. “Monica, honey… sweetie! You know how hard it was for me to get you this role! The fact is — your reputation for being a bit… uh, unique to work with made the job offers dry up.”
She whirled around, frowning at the sweating little man. “It’s the tabloids — they’re killing me!” she said. “All those stories about my temper tantrums — and the insurance risk because I had a few fights with idiots who didn’t appreciate a starlet’s special needs — are damaging my career! Reuben, you can’t mean that Monica Lake, movie star and cover girl, is now nothing more than a common monster-flick vamp!”
Monica Lake pouted prettily, then prepared to throw one of her famous temper tantrums. She stomped her feet, clutching her red wig with both hands. She pulled, then frowned in confusion as the wig refused to yield an inch. “Yeooow!” she whined. “This hurts! It’s like it’s my real hair!”
“Probably bad cosmetic work by this TV station hack,” said Reuben. “Let me see.” He touched the locks of red hair, then gently touched Monica’s cheek with one finger. “Honey, the chalky white stuff won’t come off, either. For that matter, your skin is as cold as ice!”
Monica shrieked as she wiped furiously at her lips and face and tugged at her fangs. “They’re real?” she yelled. “I can’t take them out!” She shoved Reuben aside and, to her surprise, he sailed across the studio as if he was little more than a doll.
She opened her mouth wider and snarled as her body trembled, then became smaller and changed shape. She shrieked again, but her words turned into a high-pitched screech as the actress literally changed into a bat. The crew rushed back and forth as panic filled the studio and the bat swooped around wildly.
The shoot was closed to the public, but a handsome blond man and a lovely blonde girl watched from the side in special VIP guest seats.
“Sheesh! Michelle, I was happy to use my clout in the biz to get you in to watch this taping,” he said, smiling, “but I figured it would be a real yawn-fest. I was wrong! Stay put, sis. This looks like a job for Booster Gold.”
Michelle Carter nodded as her big brother shed a designer suit to reveal a costume of gold and blue. He flipped up an open-topped hood and slipped goggles into place as he flew forward in his colorful guise as Booster Gold. It is so magna weird to be in the twentieth century, she thought. Still, I love it here. Michael’s a real action-hero in this era, and mom and I have had nothing but thrills since we arrived here. I can’t believe he’s become so celebrated and wealthy. The girl from the future watched as her heroic brother sped into action.
“Mony, honey, it’s the Booster!” he said. “Calm down! Don’t go, uh… batty on me! We’ll figure this thing out. I’ve seen worse. Trust me, the Hammer Films look works for you!” He knew the actress all too well. They had dated briefly over the summer, but he had moved on to other conquests, and her career had declined sharply. Still, Booster Gold wanted to help her, and he would do his best to do just that. Vampires! he thought. I didn’t even know about them back in my proper era. Of course, I never was one to read until my boring nights as a guard at the Space Museum turned me on to the heroes of this century. He reached out for the bat, but it dodged him, and he barely avoided crashing into a camera. “Whoa!” he said. “Those things cost money!”
Booster stopped and thought for a minute. Then he smiled as an idea came to him. He swooped after the bat, then raised his hands to generate a blast of light from his gloves. “I seldom need the light-bright effect, since my goggles adjust so well to dark or light, but it may just bring down my Gothic gal-pal!”
He was right. The brilliant flash of light caused the bat to drop down and change back into the startled actress. Booster caught her in his arms and smiled as cameras flashed around them. “Nice of you to drop in,” he quipped, smiling broadly.
Later, in her dressing room, Monica Lake wept softly and expressed what had become all too clear. “This is my real skin and hair now?” she cried. “I’ve turned into an honest-to-goodness Countess Von Bludd!”
Meanwhile, Candy Dean — who was secretly the action-heroine known as Liberty Belle — was watching with approval as some of the girls from her Dean Modeling Agency worked the catwalk. The businesswoman clearly had the looks and style of a former model herself, but the attractive, brown-haired beauty was more concerned with the bottom line than her hemline. Business is starting to pick up after a bit of a lull, she thought. If this show goes well, I can count on a major account from the West Coast. She wore a short red dress with black high heels, and she watched the show with the trained eye of one who didn’t miss even the smallest detail.
Currently, a lovely woman with long, reddish-brown hair was strutting on the catwalk to the obvious approval of the audience. Maddy’s easily the best model I’ve got, Candy mused. I am so glad that she didn’t quit when I told her that, from now on, I will be the only Liberty Belle. I can’t risk having another friend die while acting as my backup or substitute.
Maddy Lopez smiled winningly as she soaked in the roar of the appreciative crowd. I love how they love me! the model thought. Nothing gives me quite the same rush as modeling. She smiled playfully as she mentally corrected herself. Well, being an action-heroine was even better, but I can’t talk Candy into letting me suit up again. I may just have to sweet-talk one of my designer friends into creating a totally new identity all my own. Wonder Woman? Ms. Marvel? Those names have a certain appeal. Too bad the comic-books already used them.
As she posed in a little black dress, she fought the urge to wipe her brow. Is the air-conditioner working? she thought. I’m burning up! She gave the crowd one final twirl before walking back up the runway.
Her dress ripped with each step as her skin began to fade away and a tawny fur covered her entire body. She rushed backstage even as the others screamed or gaped at her, depending upon how much they could see.
Maddy gazed in horror in a mirror and saw her altered form. She was a bit taller, and her hair was now more of a mane. Her face was covered with a light fur, and her eyes had a feline-like gleam. Touching her legs and arms, she noticed that her nails were now longer and sharper. “I’m a cat?” she gasped. “I’ve turned into a human cat!”