BACK TO SCHOOL

I quickly dodged the searing white blast from the Slozenirian’s energy-gun and ducked behind the foliage of Baltimore’s Patterson Park. The alien creature, three feet tall and green, with pitch-black eyes and a slit for a mouth, snarled in anger.

“You will pay, Daemonian,” he said. “You will pay for your interference, and for the outrage your people committed upon our entire race!”

The Space-going species from the distant planet Slozeniria have for many years blamed my people for the plague that wiped out most of their kind, including all of their females. Be that as it may, the fact that this Slozenirian male was now attempting to utilise human females for forced breeding purposes was obviously inexcusable. He had established an headquarters at the skating-rink in the centre of the park, and had used this position, along with equipment from his crashed spaceship, in a plan to lure suitable young maidens for his own purposes. I had only just succeeded in saving one poor wee lass from this hideous fate.

“I cannot allow your activities to continue, Slozenirian,” I retorted. “You will not use the Earth-girls to repopulate your race!”

Clad in my usual finery -- including a frilled poet-shirt and purple velvet dinner jacket -- I was hidden amongst the trees, attempting to use the few moments I had in order to come up with a defence against the alien’s weapon. However, so far, things were only getting worse.

Suddenly, another blast of energy hit just behind me. I turned to see from whence it had come and found myself facing an hovering metallic object that could only be euphemistically described as “cigar-shaped”. It was about a metre in length, and I recognised it as a Slozenirian death-probe -- forsooth an highly-dangerous device of the type used by them for surveillance and ultimately for assassination.

“You can’t escape now, Daemonian!” announced the Slozenirian. “You are finished!”

Quickly, before the hovering death-probe could renew its attack on me, I took a device from the pocket of my jacket. It was about the size if a writing-pen, but was in fact an highly-advanced scientific instrument known as the transonic turnscrew. I aimed it to-wards the probe and activated the transonic’s function to switch the polarisation of the neutronic stream that powered the menace.

The robotic killer turned and, in stead of continuing its attempt on my life, flew directly at its master, the Slozenirian. Before the alien would-be rapist could even react, it blasted him out of existence with its white-hot energy burst. I then turned the transonic turnscrew again upon the probe and shut off the thing’s power completely, causing it to crash to the ground.

I was then just emerging from the foliage when a beautiful young girl came running to-wards me. She was petite and perfect, with chestnut hair, honey-coloured skin, and eyes like sapphires. She was dressed in the brief pink dress she had worn to go skating that night when the Slozenirian horror had attempted to abduct her. Her name was Madeline Ross, known to her friends as “Maddie”. She was eleven years old.

“I’m so glad you’re all right, Doctor!” she said as she threw her arms around me. “Thanks so much for saving me from that thing!”

“No worries, love,” I assured her. “I have had to deal with Slozenirians before, and am quite familiar with their weaknesses.”

“Wow!” she continued with a gorgeous smile on her lovely lips. “I wish I could go with you, and be your ‘companion’ or whatever!”

“Well, it is kind of late but I do have another assignment in the morning, so…”

“You mean I can go with you?!” she enquired with delighted expectance.

“If you will first join me for an early breakfast, you may indeed,” I explained. “It would in fact be particularly appropriate. You see, for my next assignment, I am going -- back to school!” …

My name is RUMANOS -- DOCTOR DANIEL RUMANOS, Extraterrestrial Espionage Agent and Intergalactic Man of Mystery. Even though I have the physical appearance of an human being, I am in fact several thousands of years old and do carry within my blood the vastly superior genes of the legendary Watchers of the Daemon-Star ALGOL -- the most intellectually-advanced race in all of the known galaxies, whose technology is so sophisticated it often appears as “magic” to lesser beings.

Whilst most Algolites live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe, I am an Operative for a secret organisation known as the KOSMIKOS or Cosmic Intervention Department, tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the farthest reaches of Space and Time. “Plausible deniability”, and all that.

Currently assigned to Planet Earth, I protect its people from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as Master Don Wingus, as well as alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. I am the living icon of Algol upon this world. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

I had recently gotten a postcard from my friend, the actress Harper Korch. She was starring in an Hollywood film and said its swashbuckling hero had reminded her of me. She wanted to tell me about a project of hers of which she was quite proud, a new line of high-fashion clothing for young people that she had named “#KorchKids”. She had also mentioned something odd that she had heard from a former schoolmate of hers back in Maryland. It in sooth concerned their old school and a mysterious object there that was said to have mystical powers, and Harper thought it indeed sounded like something within my own line of work.

Therefore, I journeyed that early morning to Ascension St. John Roman Catholic School in the Catonsville area of Baltimore County -- with my new “companion”, young Maddie Ross, in tow. I had assumed that the assignment would be a peaceful one, and indeed safe enough for the young lady to accompany me.

I really do need to stop assuming things.

Upon arriving at the school, its headmistress (an elderly nun who was perhaps a bit scandalised by my inherent masculinity and by Madeline Ross’s miniskirt) redirected us to the adjoining church building in order to speak to its pastor, The Reverend Father Dishon. The venerable old priest, white-haired and clad in his cassock, greeted us affably in his office. Maddie and I were seated in comfortable chairs whilst the holy man sat behind his desk.

“Interesting to meet you, Dr. Rumanos,” said Fr. Dishon. “I have heard of your work. Something in the news about an alien theme park, was it? Incredible! So, what is it brings you to our humble church this day? You say it has something to do with that old relic?”

“Yes, Father,” I replied. “A friend of mine who used to be student here told me some interesting things concerning it.”

“It is kept in a locked room in the church basement,” answered the priest, “and only brought out once a year during the graduation ceremonies. Just a sort of local tradition. It isn’t an official relic, really, and I’ve personally never seen any of the supposed ‘mystical powers’ some say it has. It belonged to a monk who was abbot of the monastic community that used to be here, back in the early Nineteenth Century. It is called ‘The Cincture of Yerasimos’.”

“Wait…” I interrupted as an hint of recognition suddenly entered my mind. “‘Yerasimos’? Why, that is an…”

“Father?” came a man’s voice from behind the door. “I need to speak with you.”

“Yes, come in,” replied the priest.

A robust African-American man of middle years entered the room. He was wearing a black suit and tie.

“This is Mr. Murphy, our deacon here at Ascension St. John’s,” introduced the old man. “Dr. Rumanos and his friend, Miss Ross.”

“Good morning, Deacon,” I said.

“Hi,” added the girl.

“Good morning,” returned Deacon Murphy. “I’m really sorry to interrupt your meeting, but there has been some problem in the church basement. Some strange noises were heard, and it appears someone has stolen the Cincture!”

“The Cincture?” rejoined Fr. Dishon. “Why, we were just speaking of it!”

“I somehow doubt if that is just a coincidence,” I added.

“All right, Deacon, let’s go down and have a look at what happened,” decided the pastor. “You are welcome to come along, Dr. Rumanos, but it might be dangerous for your young friend if there is really some desperate criminal about the place.”

“I’ll be safe with the Doctor,” said the lass. “I want to go too!”

I looked at the priest. He shrugged his shoulders in agreement.

“All right,” I said, taking her hand. “But stay close.”

We all went together -- Fr. Dishon, the Deacon, Maddie, and I -- to the church basement and to the room where the so-called Cincture of Yerasimos had been kept. The priest, perhaps indignant that the sanctity of his holy place had been so violated, quickly went into the room first. I then heard him cry out -- a cry of mixed shock and horror.

I hurried into the room, still holding the girl’s hand. Deacon Murphy stayed just inside the doorway.

“God help us!” exclaimed the old man whilst crossing himself. “God help us all!”

“Father, what is it?” I enquired. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, yes, but… Over there. In the box where the relic was kept. It’s Howard, our verger. The poor boy! Oh, God help us all!”

In the room was a table, draped in white like a small altar. On the wall above it was a crucifix, with large candlesticks on each side. Upon the table was a golden box, rectangular and about half a metre wide. The lid of the box was open, and I peered into it to see what had so affected the priest.

In the box was the corpse of a young man clad in a casual suit, a rather common-looking but nicely featured fellow with a tan complexion and sand-coloured hair. He had been shrunken to the size of a doll!

I quickly covered Maddie’s eyes with my hand.

“You do not want to see that, love,” I said. “It is too horrible. I should not have brought you here.”

“What is it, Doctor?” she insisted.

“It is none other than the calling card of the most evil being in the Universe. One whom I am ashamed to say is from my own home planet. He is known as Don Wingus!”

“And this person can do that?” asked Fr. Dishon.

“Indeed. He has a weapon known as the Flesh Compressor Gun; highly-illegal in all civilised Galaxies, of course. He must have been here to steal the Cincture when your verger interrupted him.”

“Yes, Howard always did look after the old thing. Oh, the poor boy! But what would this criminal want with that old relic?”

“When you told me it was called the Cincture of Yerasimos it rang a bell, metaphorically speaking,” I explained. “You see, Yerasimos was also one of my own race, a very powerful Algolite who is said to have touched the Outermost Barrier, the entrance point from which our ancestors, the Aeternusians, first entered into physical existence. Many generations ago, Yerasimos left our world and disappeared. Apparently, he had retired to Earth and formed the monastic community here. Whether he eventually left your planet again, or found a way to end his life here, I have no way of knowing. But anything that was often on his person, like indeed the cincture of his monk’s robe, would have become permeated with power that could be utilised for many purposes.”

“That would explain the stories,” said the old priest. “The stories of the Cincture sometimes glowing orange and blue. I never believed them!”

Whilst speaking to the priest, I had barely noticed that Maddie Ross had moved away from me, just nervously wandering a bit, an unfortunately dangerous but obvious way that some people -- especially the young -- tend to deal with fear. I only really became consciously aware of this when I heard a muffled cry from her. Both Father Dishon and I immediately whirled around to-wards the sound.

Standing in the doorway was Deacon Murphy. He was holding the girl with his hand securely around her waist. The other hand was holding a gun to her head, but it was in sooth no ordinary firearm.

“Deacon!” exclaimed the pastor. “What in God’s name are you doing?”

“Oh, nothing in the name of your ridiculous deity, I assure you, old man,” spat Murphy with an evil gleam in his dark eyes. “I’m sure Dr. Rumanos here will be pleased to explain in his usual tiresome fashion.”

“Father Dishon,” I said, “from whence did you acquire this so-called ‘deacon’?”

“Why, he came highly recommended,” answered the holy man. “He transferred here a few weeks ago from a parish in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.”

“Of course; that old hotbed of American Satanism,” I said, turning back to the supposed Deacon Murphy. “I should have known it was you. So you did indeed escape from the Zellno. Mentally enslaving a few church officials so you could get yourself assigned here was no difficult task, hmm? Especially with the nearness of the Cincture of Yerasimos boosting your Algolitish powers and enabling you to psychically mask your true appearance. That weapon, of course, is the very Flesh Compressor Gun of which we were just speaking.”

With this, the figure of Deacon Murphy flashed and faded, replaced by another that I knew only too well. It was a man in a black vestment robe, with a golden cord around his waist that was obviously the missing Cincture itself. The man’s face was a thing of horror, with a scarred, corpselike skin stretched tightly over the skull. Only a few tufts of grey hair upon his pate and chin gave evidence of his once-handsome appearance. The face was lipless, revealing a mouthful of mottled teeth, and his eyes shown with a wickedly hypnotic glow.

“Father Dishon,” I addressed the priest, “meet Don Wingus!”

As he continued to threaten the helpless young girl, the villain let forth with a mirthless laugh of unspeakable demoniacal evil.

Forsooth, an you even begin to perceive the unholy terror and the unnameable satanic horror of this, dear readers? Master Don Wingus, the most evil and unmentionably sinful criminal in all the history of the Universe, was holding his horrible Flesh Compressor Gun to the pretty head of that helpless young girl, Miss Madeline Ross!

“Ah, Rumanos,” purred Wingus, “as predictable as ever. Here with your latest little lady-friend, and once again playing the virtuous saviour. It’s mind-boggling how you actually get people believing you. In Baltimore you’re a saint! You must have a golden horseshoe up your arse; the way you get away with pretending to be Sir Galahad when you are actually more like Jeffrey Epstein.”

“Give it a rest, Wingus,” I retorted. “I have no claim to virtue, but I have done nothing to compare to your myriad crimes. Look at you now; an emaciated walking corpse animated only by hate.”

“Not for long, Rumanos, not for long,” he grinned. “With the power of the Cincture of Yerasimos, I shall gain energy from the Outermost Barrier, the energy to Rejuvenate my body -- and the power to then go on to do what is rightfully mine to do: To become supreme lord and master, indeed Dictator of all Time and Space!!”

“You fascist fiend! You lost the power to Rejuvenate due to your dalliance with that insane Russian woman, the one by whom you had a child. Remember that poor child? Little Stacy? Your own daughter whom you had ritually raped and murdered by that rotten Spectral Paranormal cult of yours? Nevertheless, it was your relations with her mother that drained your powers. Adult women are anathema to Algolites, because of the horrid deeds of The Nemesister!”

“As usual, Rumanos,” chuckled Don Wingus evilly, as a tone of obscene mockery entered his voice, “you use the ancient prophecies as an excuse to justify your own nympholepsy. All hail Daniel frigging Rumanos, for hebephilia is the gift of God and Rumanos is His Apostle!”

As Wingus then let forth with a peel of mad laughter, I saw Fr. Dishon cross himself defensively at this blasphemous disrespect of holy things.

“Oh, by the way,” added Wingus as he moved the gun closer to poor Maddie’s head, “aren’t you going to beg me to ‘let the girl go’? I always so enjoy that bit. Really, how much more horror can your sexy little friend here stand?”

“I know it is of no use, Wingus,” I rejoined. “You are without mercy. You have not a shred of decency or compassion within you. You are Satan, the Prince of Lies, the Original Evil, in sooth you are the very quintessence of sin!”

Don Wingus smiled through his hideously exposed teeth, taking my description of his unspeakable wickedness as a compliment.

“But let me say this,” I continued. “If you hurt that wee lass one little bit, I mean so much as one hair on her head or one cell of her body, I swear by the Spires of Daemonia that I shall find a way to tear your dry decayed flesh apart with my bare hands!”

“Oh, such shows of fake chivalric manliness won’t be necessary, Rumanos,” he stated. “This little diversion was just to give me time, and in that it has succeeded. For I have now had the chance to mentally attune myself to the powers of the Cincture, and to gain the ability to open the link -- the link that Yerasimos achieved to the Outermost Barrier itself!!”

And with this, as if by Wingus’s command, there opened over the altar an eldritch energy portal glowing with swirling orange and blue Algolitish power. Then, before I could react, Wingus threw the girl against me, pocketed his gun, and jumped directly into the link, disappearing into the portal that I knew led to a source of supreme and incredible power that he could indeed utilise in his iniquitous plot to achieve his most ungodly and demoniacal schemes!!!

Poor little Maddie Ross was in an half-swoon from the horrors she had experienced. I carefully placed her down on a near by bench and then turned to the priest.

“Father,” I pleaded, “please look after her, and pray for us all!”

Then, I leaped through the portal, following the evil Don Wingus through the link to the Outermost Barrier!

I passed through with the quickness of forever, the speed of eternity, the impetus of everlasting. Within the inter-Dimensional link I beheld the blackness of Infinite Space, and then realised it is not truly black at all, but a gemmed azure of ecstasy and of the embrace of longing.

At the centre of all, and therefore at the edge, I saw the pulsing bright orange and blue energy of what I knew to be the Outermost Barrier. Hovering before it was the figure of Don Wingus, and I perceived to my chagrin that the power was flowing into him via the Cincture of Yerasimos that was about his waist.

“It is too late, Rumanos!” he shrilled as I approached. “The Power is mine! The Power of the Outermost Barrier! The Power our Aeternusian forebears left behind when they entered into what is termed physical reality! Now it is mine! Mine! And I shall bring it with me to use that I may force all of Space and all of Time to bow down before me! Oh, bow down before me shall all the races of existence! Planets! Stars! Galaxies by the myriads of myriads! All shall be my servants -- my slaves! All shall bow down to worship their true and rightful lord and king, the Imperial Ruler of All That Is Known and All That Is Unknown -- I, I, I -- MASTER DON WINGUS!!!”

By now, I had alit beside him before the pulsing powers of the Outermost Barrier. He turned to face me, his disfigured face and glowing eyes grotesque beyond imagining with the look of mad insane triumph upon them.

“You have lost, Rumanos!” he shouted with a peal of darkly iniquitous laughter. “You have lost and the power is mine! You now have no ability, physical or mental, to match mine! Now you too, Daniel Rumanos, shall bow down before me!!”

“I do not suggest holding your breath whilst waiting for that part to happen, Wingus old chap,” I retorted calmly.

With this, I quickly reached out and touched the Cincture, just at the tie of the knot where he had it around his midsection. It fell free and I pulled it away from him to quickly deposit it in the pocket of my jacket.

“What!” suddenly screamed Don Wingus when he felt the energies abruptly drain from him as they flowed back into the Outermost Barrier. “What have you done? How… How have you… ?”

“Just a little trick I picked up from Houdini,” I explained. “Rope ties, you know. Not exactly monkish, but none the less…”

Then with one final scream of shock and of outrage, the arch-villain known to eternal infamy as Don Wingus fell away from the Outermost Barrier and soon vanished into the depths of Space.

Alone, I concentrated on finding my way back, back to the link to the reality of Earth, and to my friends -- the kindly church pastor and the beautiful young lady I knew where waiting and hoping… forsooth praying for my safe return…

Shortly thereafter, we were enjoying tea and cakes in Father Dishon’s office. Maddie had recovered from her swoon with that particular alacrity that is only to be found in the very young, and the worthy old priest had insisted that we stay for some much-needed sustenance following such an indeed terrifying experience.

“Quite right,” I said whilst relaxing in my chair. “Nothing like a bit of crumpet after an hard day’s work.”

“So do you think you’ve heard the last of that Wingus?” enquired the girl.

“It is impossible to say,” I explained. “There was so much power coming out of that link to the Outermost Barrier, it is just possible he could have used it to escape.”

“But surely that man was dying already,” added the padre. “He couldn’t survive what you described happening over there.”

“I hope he did not,” I said. “Forgive me for wishing harm on anyone, but I must say that I hope he did not.”

“Given the circumstances, Dr. Rumanos, I’m certain you are forgiven. As for me, I have to see to poor Howard’s funeral arrangements. Closed casket, of course.”

“Well, we shall let you get to that, and please do give our condolences to his family,” I said, as Maddie and I rose to leave. “If there are any enquiries, just mention my name to the police. We have to go and begin the necessary research for our next assignment. There are reports of a shape-shifting lobster alien in Dundalk. By the way, all the power contained in the Cincture was drained out, so you should have no more trouble from it. Goodbye, Father!”

“Bye, Father,” added the lass.

“Goodbye, my children,” answered the kindly old priest as he raised his hand in a sign of blessing. “Go in peace, and may God be with you.” …

Later that same bizarrely-eventful day, as the dusk of darkness fell over the City of Baltimore, a figure in a black, cowled robe walked into The Depot Tavern on Charles Street, a “dive-bar“ that gets its name from being in close proximity to the city’s main train station. As he passed the area where a local “heavy metal” band was setting up to play later that evening, a thin, grey-haired man who acted as sound technician looked up at the figure with a look of worshipful awe -- and perhaps also of homophilic lust.

The figure continued to the back of the establishment, activating a secret switch hidden in a wall recess. A door opened, and he stepped into it, descending a narrow flight of stairs into a room hidden beneath The Depot Tavern.

It was a room decorated in Victorian-era splendour, with antique furniture and accessories, and at one end a large chair looking like a throne upon a raised dais.

The dark figure walked over to stand before a wide, ornately-framed mirror that hung over the fireplace mantel. He lowered his cowl to reveal the scarred, decaying face of Don Wingus, and gazed at himself in the glass.

It was then that a dark orange and black glow played upon his form, and the intergalactic criminal known as Master Don Wingus chuckled wickedly as his face began to blur and change…

***** DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN IN “FIFTY SHADES OF GARGOYLE”