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Masters of the Universe

Eric Wetzel

"Damn!" Skeletor yelled, whipping the thermostat control back and forth.

"Is this thing out again?" he asked Beast-Man, who had returned from the bathroom. Beast-Man shrugged and grunted, slumping into the den's easy chair. Skeletor pulled the coffee table to the wood-paneled wall and stood on top, waving his hand in front of the ceiling vent.

"Damn!" Skeletor repeated, turning to Beast-Man. "It's just starting to get hot outside, too." He stepped off the table and dropped onto the couch, an overstuffed yellow model that clashed horribly with Beast-Man's imitation leather recliner, which was dull red. Beast-Man had fur to match.

"We can't call Randy about it, you know. We'll have to get it fixed ourselves, somehow," Skeletor said. Beast-Man looked up from the sports page.

"Wait, what are you saying?" Beast-Man asked in his raspy voice.

"The air conditioner," Skeletor said, becoming more annoyed. "We can't call the landlord--you know how he's been hounding me over this back rent and all." He sat up in the couch and pulled a pack of Salems from his breastplate.

"I don't know where the money's gonna come from," Skeletor said, wincing at the thought of the always-blinking answering machine in the hallway. Its tape was filled with irate messages from their landlord and from some girl at Remco, the company that owned their furniture. Skeletor shook his head, nothing but a hooded skull, and sighed, lighting a cigarette. Smoke wafted from his empty eye sockets as he inhaled.

"Maybe you should be more careful with your, uh, gambling habits," Beast-Man said quietly, and raised the newspaper to his face with a snap. He made the statement reluctantly. Lackeys of arch-fiends are not, strictly speaking, supposed to have strong opinions, least of all opinions regarding their bosses' personal problems. Beast-Man did not talk much.

"What?" Skeletor blurted, raising his voice. "Look, Beast-Man, I gamble to pay the bills around here, buddy. I don't see you doing much except eating my food." Skeletor did not speak the entire truth. He paid all of the duo's expenses out of profits from his small chain of Kwik Wash Coin-Operated Laundries, outlets located throughout the Los Angeles area; his gambling was nothing but a drain on that income.

Skeletor lifted his Power Sword from the coffee table and jabbed it through Beast-Man's newspaper, pulling the sheets out of his hands.

"Are you listening to me?" Skeletor demanded.

"Yeah, boss, I'm sorry," Beast-Man said, rolling his red eyes.

Skeletor put the Power Sword back on the table and glanced at his watch.

"Hey, great," Skeletor said, "we've got time to see the lottery numbers before we head to the track." Skeletor and Beast-Man went to the greyhound racing track every Friday afternoon. Skeletor leapt off the couch and disappeared into the kitchen, where he kept his lottery tickets magnetized to the refrigerator. He flipped on the television as he returned to the den. Skeletor got one number out of six.

"I tell you, Beast-Man, our luck's gotta change," Skeletor said, tearing up his lottery stub. "I never would've guessed that I'd have problems like this. I bet He-Man doesn't worry about money."

"I'm sure He-Man has problems of his own," Beast- Man said.

"I hope so," Skeletor said. "If we could only ditch our creditors, you know, start with a clean slate. Then maybe I could think of how to vanquish He-Man and get his Power Sword...I'm too stressed to deal with him now." Skeletor sighed and looked back at his watch. "Okay, forget it, let's make for the track."

Beast-Man grabbed his car keys and they headed out the front door, which opened onto Castle Greyskull's drawbridge. Beast-Man's '78 Eldorado was parked at the curb, with "The Club" latched soundly to the steering wheel. Castle Greyskull was, after all, in Watts, and Beast-Man took every precaution with his car.

"Whoa, wait a minute," Skeletor said as Beast-Man unlocked the driver's side door.

"What?"

"I forgot to hide the Power Sword," Skeletor said. Skeletor usually kept his Power Sword in the freezer.

"Don't worry about it," Beast-Man said.

"No way. He-Man wants that thing way too badly for me to leave it on the table." Skeletor ran back into Castle Greyskull. Beast-Man shook his head and started the Cadillac.

Across town, in central L.A., He-Man sat in his new apartment, watching television.

"Hmmm... maybe I could use one of those adjustable beds," He-Man said to himself as the commercial ended. There was a knock at the door. He-Man rose, his hugely muscular frame dwarfing the chair.

"Who is it?"

"Man-at-Arms," a voice said from outside.

"How's it going?" He-Man said, letting Man-at-Arms in.

"Pretty good. Hey, nice place. I like the carpet," Man-at-Arms said, leaning on the counter that separated He-Man's living room from the kitchen. "So what have you been up to?"

"Not much," He-Man said. "I got the day off, and found a place to do my laundry." He-Man pointed at a basket on the floor, filled with folded tunics, codpieces, and a few button-up shirts. "Its real close, and pretty clean and nice. Kwik Wash. They're all around town." He-Man noticed that Man-at-Arms was wearing a navy Adidas jogging suit instead of his yellow armor.

"Is that a new get-up? I like it," He-Man said.

"Yeah, well, they kinda frown on the armor at my new job," Man-at-Arms said. He was a clerk at City Hall.

"Really?" He-Man asked. "They didn't seem to mind at Wendy's."

"Yeah, well, this is pretty much a higher paying job."

"Oh," He-Man said.

"That reminds me," Man-at-Arms said, "I met this guy Glenn at work, and I think we can use him to hassle Skeletor."

"What do you mean?"

"See, he works in Residential Zoning, and I gave him the address of Castle Greyskull. He's gonna go check it out today. Maybe we can get Skeletor evicted or something," Man-at-Arms said.

He-Man and Man-at-Arms laughed at the idea of Skeletor walking the streets, homeless. He-Man pulled his Power Sword out of the laundry basket, brandishing it in the living room's track lighting.

"Whoa," Man-at-Arms said, "cool. You have custody of it now?"

"Just for the weekend. I picked it up the other day from Tee-La's place. You should see that spread, Man- at-Arms, it's a damn mansion." Tee-La lived to the west, in fashionable Bel-Air.

"It oughta be," Man-at-Arms said. "She's only banging Fakor, for Christ's sake." Fakor was a robotic replica of He-Man that Skeletor had created years ago. Skeletor had intended the robot to carry out various evil deeds, but the plan backfired miserably. Fakor went around doing good, heroic deeds, except he demanded money for them. He amassed a fortune and retired to the L.A. hills.

"Yeah, well, we don't need to talk about it," He-Man said, laying the sword on the counter.

"Sorry, He-Man. Listen, we should take off--I have to pick Frederick up from day care pretty soon." He-Man needed a ride to the H & R Block office, to get help with some tax forms. He did not have a driver's license, and relied on Man-at-Arms, who drove a Chevy van.

"Sure, Man-at-Arms, sure. Let me just hide my Power Sword." He-Man disappeared into the bedroom, where he jammed the sword under his mattress. "We wouldn't want Skeletor somehow getting a hold of that thing," he yelled from the other room.

"Damn straight," Man-at-Arms said, as He-Man returned to the living room. "Let's go."

He-Man was locking the apartment door when a short man with a dark mustache came down the nearby stairs; he was one of the few other tenants in the tiny complex.

"He-Man," the man called out.

"Oh, hey, Luis, what's up? Man-at-Arms, this is Luis Gomez. He lives above me. He's a Mexican-American."

"Really," Man-at-Arms said, shaking Luis' hand. "I speak some Spanish, you know. 'Mi abuelo los gustan sus pantalones rojos,'" Man-at-Arms said.

"Uh... whatever," Luis said. "He-Man, I wanted to tell you that I caught some guy snooping by your living room windows a few minutes ago. He said he was here to read the meters, but I chased him off anyway." He- Man looked at Man-at-Arms.

"Hmmm... that's strange," He-Man said. "What did he look like, Luis?"

"That was just it, He-Man--he was one of the plainest, most normal looking guys I've ever seen."

"Well... I don't know what I can do about it," He-Man said. He and Man-at-Arms said goodbye to Luis and headed for the van. Little did they know that Man-E- Faces, master of disguise and treacherous henchman of Skeletor, had been spying on them.

Meanwhile, at the dog track, Skeletor and Beast- Man placed their only bet and waited anxiously by the chain-link fence that separated the greyhounds from the filthy aluminum bleachers. The track was in northern Los Angeles, and smog hung everywhere. Skeletor could just make out Magic Mountain, the local Six Flags amusement park, in the hazy distance.

"I hear Mer-Man's got a job there now," Skeletor said.

"Where?" Beast-Man asked.

"Magic Mountain. He's in some kind of water show- -you know, for kids. He swims around, behind a plexiglass wall or something. I wonder why he quit working for me," Skeletor said. "Oh, well, he was only good for aquatic treachery, anyway," he mused. Beast- Man looked at Skeletor.

"He probably got tired of being paid off with nothing but Arby's gift certificates," Beast-Man said. Skeletor had hoarded gift certificates to "Arby's," a local fast food restaurant, as his cash funds dwindled. He paid his minor henchmen with them.

"What's wrong with Arby's?!" Skeletor screamed. The family sitting behind them got up and moved. Beast- Man thought about arguing more, but held his tongue. The track's P.A. system announced the beginning of the race.

"All right," Skeletor said, glancing at the racing form. "'Down Under Thunder', that's our winner, Beast-Man-- some dog from Australia, I guess. The odds are incredibly bad." Skeletor had dumped every spare nickel on the canine. "We stand to make a thousand bucks," he said. The electric rabbit flew out of its housing on the track's railing, and the dogs exploded out of the gate as the announcer boomed, "And they're off!"

Glenn Jones turned his white, city-issue Escort onto 120th Street and scanned the passing houses.

"Okay... here we go," Glenn said to himself, stopping in front of Castle Greyskull. He got out and walked up the drawbridge, peering into the pit below.

"What is this, bottomless?" Glenn asked, making a notation on his clipboard. He knocked on the door, and, no answer, he walked around the side of the castle. The place smelled terrible. He made another mark on the form. Man-at-Arms wasn't joking, Glenn thought, this place is a real dump.

"Um, hello, are you Mr. He-Man?" the man in the tan sportcoat asked. He-Man put down the copy of People.

"Just He-Man. Uh, yes," He-Man said.

"I'm Delroy French, your H & R Block representative. Let me show you to my office." Delroy led He-Man to a desk surrounded by a gray cubicle.

"I've been looking through the forms you sent in, Mr. He-Man, and I have a few questions for you before we can file it away," Delroy said.

"Great, and it's just He-Man," He-Man said, sitting in a folding chair.

"Okay, let's take a look at your 1040. Hmmm... you're filing under 'single' status--are you a qualifying widower, He-Man?"

"No, I'm recently divorced."

"Your ex-wife's name?"

"Tee-La."

"T-E-E dash L-A?," Delroy asked.

"Yes."

"And you took a loss of capital in the divorce settlement?"

"Major."

"Excellent," Delroy said. "We can exempt all your lost stocks, etcetera. Now, did she receive the marital home, He-Man?"

"She got the house, Battle-Cat, and we share the Power Sword."

"Battle what?" Delroy asked. He nervously smoothed his graying hair.

"Battle-Cat," He-Man said. "A giant green cat that I get around on, ride into battle on, scare my enemies with, you know, things like that. She got him. I get the Power Sword every other weekend, though. It's this sword that I wield menacingly, pretty much the source of my heroic strength. See, it's only half a sword, split lengthwise, but it still works. The arch-villain Skeletor owns the other half, and each of us, naturally, tries to get hold of both halves."

"I see," Delroy said, a bit puzzled. He-Man rolled his eyes.

"If you have both halves, you become Master of the Universe, you know, you get it all. The whole pie," He- Man explained.

"And what is you occupation?" Delroy asked.

"I'm a bank teller. First National Savings and Loan."

"All right, then, that should do it," Delroy said, capping his pen and standing up. He-Man shook his hand, said goodbye, and left H & R Block.

He-Man looked up and down the avenue, wishing he had Man-at-Arms to give him a ride home. He looked down at his boots. They were too uncomfortable to walk home in, he thought, and his codpiece would probably chafe after a couple blocks. Plus, his metal vest was heating up in the sun, so He-Man decided to take a bus. He walked to the stop on the nearest corner and sat on the bench. Not being able to drive, He-Man thought, was really beginning to cramp his schedule. How would he ever be able to fight Skeletor without a car? He had enough trouble just getting to work and back, and had no idea if a bus ran anywhere near Castle Greyskull. He- Man wondered if Man-at-Arms' friend--what was his name? Glenn? Gary?--had bothered to track Skeletor down. He laughed, remembering the last couple of items that he and Man-at-Arms tried to confront the villain. Right after Man-at-Arms bought his van, the pair had driven to Castle Greyskull only to find no one home. They ran out of gas on the way back, so the trip was a total bust. A month or so later, He-Man and his friend had gone over at three in the morning on a whim. They had had a lot of wine with dinner that night, and banged on the castle's door, screaming and laughing. Skeletor had appeared from a tower window just long enough to threaten a call to the police. He-Man had not seen him nemesis since then; the divorce and move had kept him pretty busy. Maybe, now that his life had changed, someone like Glenn (Gary?) was his best hope for defeating Skeletor. He-Man's bus broke his train of thought, squealing to a stop at the corner.

Beast-Man's Eldorado screeched onto 120th street, with "Spinning Wheel," by Blood, Sweat, and Tears, blaring from the speakers. Inside, Skeletor showered his lap with dollar bills.

"Wahoo!," Skeletor cried through his lit Salem. "I don't believe it--I'm telling you, Beast-Man, we were a dog's nose away from some real financial trouble." Beast-Man, though happy for Skeletor, found this statement misleading. The race was not completely clean. The minute the track gate opened, two of the more promising racers ran straight for Beast-Man, who jumped back from the flimsy fence as the greyhounds leapt at his red, furry form. Skeletor had kicked violently at the chain-link as the dogs barked wildly, screaming "do you smell different to them?" to Beast-Man. This left "Down Under Thunder" with four other dogs, two of which got into a fight before the first turn. One of the remaining contestants, probably the fastest of them all, got close enough to the electric rabbit to leap up and bite it. He was electrocuted and died instantly. "Down Under Thunder's" last competitor looked sick from the race's opening, and crossed the finish line in a confused trot. The long show paid off big.

As the Cadillac neared Castle Greyskull, Beast-Man and Skeletor both saw the white Escort parked at the curb. Beast-Man parked as Skeletor turned the music down.

"Please don't be from Remco, please not from Remco," Skeletor muttered, getting out and walking across the brown lawn. Glenn Jones stood on the drawbridge.

"Hello," he said, "I'm Glenn Jones and I work for the City of Los Angeles." Skeletor breathed a sigh of relief through his bony jaw. Beast-Man joined them on the drawbridge.

"Are you the tenants here?" Glenn asked. Skeletor nodded.

"Good--I was just about to leave," Glenn said, tearing the top form from his clipboard. "I'm afraid we have some problems, sir. First of all, this structure is way to big for a residential lot." Glenn gestured his hand towards the castle's huge turrets.

"Plus, this pit, is it indeed bottomless?" Glenn asked.

"Well, yes, but--," Skeletor stammered.

"Yes, fine, well, then, that's against all sorts of municipal regulations, not to mention the toxic smell that your castle is emitting. I'm sorry, Mr.--"

"Skeletor."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Skeletor, but I've been authorized by the City to officially condemn your home. You have twenty-four hours to vacate." Glenn handled Skeletor the eviction form.

"Good-day, gentlemen," Glenn said as he got in his car and drove off.

"What a day!" Skeletor cried happily, raising his arms towards the sky. Beast-Man wrinkled his brow.

"What are you talking about, Skeletor?" Beast-Man asked.

"Don't you see? This absolves us of all debt! We can--"

"Am I too late?" a strangely familiar voice interrupted angrily. Skeletor spun around to see Man-E- Faces, his old henchman, who sported his angry face.

"Man-E-Faces!" Skeletor shouted. "What have you been up to?"

"I found He-Man's new home today," he said, glaring, "and I heard him and Man-at-Arms talking about getting you evicted."

"So this is all He-Man's doing, eh?" Skeletor said, rubbing his chin with bone fingers. "Fine, then. Once I'm relocated, I'll have the money and time to consider my revenge." Man-E-Faces' head rotated to reveal his plain face.

"Beast-Man!" Skeletor called, still stroking his jaw thoughtfully.

"Hmm?" Beast-Man answered.

"Fetch my Power Sword. It's in the freezer." Beast-Man disappeared into Castle Greyskull.

"As for you, my friend, you're getting what you deserve," Skeletor said, reaching into his cloak pocket. He pulled out a stack of gift certificates.

"Arby's!" Man-E-Faces shouted, his head rotating quickly to his happy face.

"Yes," Skeletor said, "all you want. Here, take the wad." Man-E-Faces grabbed the coupons eagerly and ran down the street with glee.

He-Man got off the bus, stepping out sideways to squeeze his bulging form through the narrow door, and headed up an alley toward his apartment. He was relieved to have his tax problems solved--he even had clean laundry waiting for him at home. As he unlocked his front door, he felt that all he really needed to do now was learn to cook, and he'd have his new life cinched. Skeletor's Power Sword could wait, he supposed. Besides, He-Man hoped, maybe Man-at-Arms' co-worker had used his municipal authority to scare the villain into total surrender.

Skeletor and Beast-Man opened the door into their new home, a unit at the "Monterrey Breeze" complex, a huge cluster of tiny, thin-walled apartments in Long Beach. Skeletor flipped on the lights to reveal the small, bare floor, where Beast-Man dropped the sword and a sack of groceries. Skeletor walked to the thermostat, turned on the air conditioner, and cold wind flooded the room.

"See, Beast-Man," Skeletor said, "what did I tell you? This is perfect. Our creditors will never find us here, so we can blow them off and keep our winnings at the same time." Beast-Man glanced nervously through the front window's mini-blinds.

"Well," Beast-Man said, "it's no Castle Greyskull--it may not even be as nice as He-Man's place, wherever that is, but it'll do. I guess it'll have to do."

"You bet," Skeletor said, grabbing the Power Sword and lifting it above his head. "Aaaah... without hopeless debt, all I have to worry about is my arch-nemesis. Ha! The fool doesn't even know that he's solved my problems for me! Soon, I'll have his sword, and with both halves I shall rule the Universe. Forever! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!," cackled Skeletor maniacally.

"Yo, keep it down!" a voice yelled from somewhere beneath the floor.


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