Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Laurell K. Hamilton: A Clean Sweep

Laurell K. Hamilton, Relatos de misterio, Tales of mystery, Relatos de terror, Horror stories, Short stories, Science fiction stories, Anthology of horror, Antología de terror, Anthology of mystery, Antología de misterio, Scary stories, Scary Tales


It's been said that familiarity breeds contempt. How long can even the extraordinary retain its novelty
in an everyday world?
Captain Housework materialized on the doorstep of #11 Pear Tree Lane. His emergency beeper had
awakened him, code red. Was it his nemesis Dr. Grime, or the infamous Dust Bunny Gang, or perhaps
Pond Scum, the destroyer of bathrooms?
He had to levitate to reach the doorbell. As crimefighters go, Captain Housework was on the short side.
His white coveralls, silver cape, and mask—formed of a billed cap with eye holes—were gleamingly
clean. He stood on the top step shining as if carved from ivory and silver.
He looked perfect, crisp, and clean. And he liked it that way.
The door opened, and a woman dressed in a bathrobe stared down at him. "Oh, it's you. Please come
in." She held the door for him, waving him in eagerly.
He stared up at her, a grim smile on his face. "And what dastardly villain is plaguing your home, dear
lady?''
She blinked at him. "Dastardly villain?" She gave a small laugh. "Oh, no, it's nothing like that. My
husband made the call. Did he say we had a supervillain in the house?"
Captain Housework drew himself up to his full three feet and said, "It was a code red, Madam. That
means a supervillain has been spotted."
The woman laughed again. "Oh, dear, no. I've got a party of twelve people coming at six o'clock and
my maid cancelled."
"You called the superhero hotline because your maid cancelled." His voice had a harsh edge to it that
the woman did seem to notice.
"Well, my friend Betty had you over when her kids threw that wild patty. You did miracles with her
house."
"I remember the incident. I made it clear that it was an exception to the rules that I aided her."
"But you've just got to help me, Captain Housework." The woman went to her knees, gripping his
arms. "Please, it's too late to turn to anyone else." Tears glittered in her eyes.
Captain Housework crossed his arms across his thin chest, his mouth set in a firm line. "Madam, I am a
superhero, not a maid. I do not think you realize how terrible my foes can be. Have you ever had a
wave of black mildew engulf your husband and eat him to the bone before your eyes?"
She blinked at him. "Well, no, but surely that does happen all that often. In the meantime, could you
help me, just this once?"
It was true that his archenemies had been lying low for a while. Work had been slow. He stared into her
tear-stained face and nodded. "All right, but only this once."
She hugged him, crumpling the bill of his mask. He pushed away from her, straightening his costume.
"That will not be necessary. I will get to work at once, if that is all right with you?"

"Oh, that's wonderful. I'll just go get dressed." She raced up the stairs, trailing some floral perfume
behind her.
Captain Housework sniffed. He preferred the cleaner scents of household air fresheners. Pine was his
favorite.
He sighed and walked into the living room. For a moment his heart beat faster; surely such destruction
could only be the work of the Dust Bunny Gang. Sofa cushions were scattered across the floor. A vase
had fallen on its side, spilling water.
Dying flowers made a sodden mess on the gray carpet. The fireplace was choked with ash and the
partially burned carcass of a doll. Toys covered nearly every inch of the floor.
Children. The only natural disaster that could rival Dr. Grime. Perhaps children were as deadly, but
they were just as messy.
This was the fifth time in a month that he had been called in and found no archvillain but only bad
housework. His name was being traded around like that of a good maid. He, Captain Housework, had
been reduced to drudgery.
He, who had fought the great dust invasion of '53, would have no problem with this mundane mess. His
superhuman speed would make short work of it all. But that was the point. People did not call The
Purple Avenger to change a tire. They called him to save their lives.
Once they had called Captain Housework for the same thing. Dr. Grime had nearly engulfed St. Louis
in a giant rain of grease. All cars, trains, and planes had come to a slippery halt. Pedestrians caught in
the first greasy rain had melted into puddles of sizzling goo. They had called for Captain Housework
then, and been glad to have him. But that had been ten years ago.
Dr. Grime had retired. The Dust Bunny Gang had split up over contractual differences. There just were
that many supervillains who specialized in true dirty work.
It was really the mundane cleaning that bothered him. It was the repeat business. People had been
calling him back again and again to clean up after them. He'd get a house spotless, perfect, and they'd
mess it up again.
It was a never-ending drudgery. Even with superpowers over dust and dirt, he was tired of it. They were
taking advantage of him. But without any supervillains to fight, a superhero had to fill some need. It
was in his contract that he had to be useful to mankind, just as a supervillain had to harm mankind. If
all the villains needing his special powers to thwart them had retired, he had to answer the call of need.
Captain Housework sighed and waved a white-gloved hand. The sofa cushions danced back in place,
fluffing themselves before snuggling down. "I am a glorified maid," he said softly to the empty room.
The kitchen was the worst. Dishes were stacked nearly to the top of the windows, thick with grease and
moldy food. He conjured a super-scouring wind and cleaned them with the force of a hurricane without
cracking a dish.
When every room was spotless, he appeared before the woman who had summoned him. "The house is
clean, Madam."
"Oh, gee, thanks." She held out money.
Captain Housework stared at the offending hand. "I am a superhero, not a servant. I do need your
money." His voice was very tight, each word bitten off.
"No offense, I'm just grateful."
"Be grateful and do call me again."
"But I want you to come back after the party and clean up," she said.
"You what?"
"The maid can't come tonight at all. I thought you'd clean up after the party. The superhero hotline said
you would."
"They said I would?"
She nodded. ' The operator on the hotline said you would be happy to be of service. She said something
about super-heroes needing to be of service to mankind."
Captain Housework stared at the woman for a few heartbeats. He saw it all then, his future stretching
out before him. An eternity of cleaning up after parties, repairing the damage of crayon-wielding tots
and unhousebroken dogs. He saw it all in the blink of his sparkling eyes. It was intolerable, a hell on
earth, but the woman was right. A superhero had to serve mankind. If all he was good for was maid
service, then so be it.
The woman had been putting on red nail polish. She reached back to tighten the lid, but was unwilling
to grip it with her wet nails. The bottle went spinning. Bright red liquid poured out onto the white
carpet, trickled down the newly polished vanity.
"Oops," the woman said. "You'll get that, won't you? I've got to finish getting ready; the guests will be
here any minute." She stood, waving her nails to dry them. She left him staring at the spreading red
stain on the carpet he had just shampooed.
His tiny hands balled into fists. He stood trembling with rage, unable to utter a word. An eternity of this
—it was intolerable! But what else could he do? Talk Dr. Grime out of retirement? No, the villain had
made millions off his memoirs.
Memoirs of the Down and Dirty
had been a best-seller.
Captain Housework stared at the slowly hardening stain, and a great calmness washed over him. He
had an idea.
The police found fourteen skeletons at #11 Pear Tree Lane. The bones were neatly arranged, sparkling
with polish, lacquered to a perfect finish. The house had never been so clean.

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