Friday, May 10, 2013

Re-Deanimator Part 18: When the Dead Talk by David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Dr. Carradine led Meg into Davey the Goliath, clearly long established as a command center. Ling was talking to Carlos with quiet intensity at the dinner table. “I do not see how I can be any more clear or emphatic, that your strategy is not only ineffective, but quite dangerous,” the Asian said. “Following groups of revenants may seem safe, when they number in the dozens or low hundreds, and I will grant that it was reasonable enough in the initial conditions of the outbreak. But those conditions have been changing, constantly. The groups have been on the move, and we have proven beyond the slightest doubt that they have an inerrant tendency to move towards each other. By following them, you head straight for another group of equal or greater size, and when the two join together, as you are well aware, they fan out over a wider area. With any group larger than a few hundred, there is no way to get behind them. Either you are ahead of their leading edge, or you are in their midst.” He fell silent as Meg sat down on the couch next to Joe.

Dr. Carradine gave a quick and guarded account of what had happened, summarizing, “She clearly believed she recognized the revenant, and she did give an accurate description of the shoe. I had a clear view of the individual in question myself, and I am quite certain that it is not among the bodies here.”

“Let me see that shoe,” Carlos said. “Aye, it's yuppie leather, an' the stuff's better'n a lot that I've seen. Good workmanship, too; my guess is it was made legit, and somebody bought 'em up and slapped the fancy labels on. Thing is...” He took a look at the sole. “It's in good shape. Nothing but normal wear, and not a lot of that. Not what you'd expect if, say, a guy walked more'n a hundred miles cross-country in 'em. Never mind if he did it in less than 48 hours.”

“Where individual revenants have been tracked, they have consistently covered longer distances than their known speeds can account for,” Dr. Ling said. “Often, their feet and footgear appear to be in far better condition than could be expected. Unfortunately, many people feel that the most significant data, specifically reports of individuals being followed by revenant family members, represents hearsay at best and hysteria at worst.”

“Aye,” said Carlos, "just about everybody still 'round has at least one story about one of those things that just homes in on one particular person and stays on the trail. Me, I never seen it, least not that I could attest to m'self. But once, we pick up a new guy, and we end up with a bunch comin’ up from behind. We stop, an' I get out my binoculars an’ check ‘em out. Then without even looking, he describes one in particular, and he starts telling me details even before I can make 'em out. He's seen it before, no question. He says he's been seeing `her' behind him, now an' then but regular, over the last two weeks an' what he reckons to be more'n ten thousand miles. He's sure it was his kid. Most all of them say something like that. But then, how many people see a thing like that wi'out it stickin' in the mind?"

“Very few forensic scientists would accept such an identification as conclusive,” Ling said. “Indeed, it is something of a trade secret that family and loved ones can be very unreliable. All kinds of things can and do happen to bodies. Even a cadaver that remain basically intact can be subject to swelling, shriveling, and discoloration sufficient to render it literally unrecognizable. It is common, if generally unspoken, wisdom not even to invite an identification by a loved one unless one is already reasonably confident. Even then, problems occur. I have had one personal experience in particular, after one of the `disturbances’ between my country and the Soviets, when I was assigned the task of giving a senior Party official the body of his son. Our morgue was filled well beyond usual capacity, and a number of bodies were being stored out in the open, one of which had been left uncovered. I was about to apologize for the carelessness, when the official embraced this body of a complete stranger and `confirmed’ that it was his son.”

Joe shrugged. “So what? All you people look alike anyway.”

“Aye, what it really comes down to is, most of the time, most people see what they expect to see,” Carlos said. “But then, like you said yourself, it works both ways. I’ve thought about that quite a bit. Most people would notice if they’re bein’ followed by a kudlak that even looks like somebody they knew. But what if it’s one that’s too messed up to recognize, or a complete stranger to begin with? It seems to me, this could be happenin’ a lot more than we know about.”

“You do no understand,” Joe said. “You think like white man. White men no understand walking dead men. Fish People know.” All eyes were on him as he rifled in his bag, and expectations clearly went down a notch when he took out a MAD magazine. He opened it to the inside of the back cover, with the fold-over hidden-picture gag.

“A walking dead man is not like ghost,” Joe said. He touched the creases of the page. “Walking dead man go here to here, he cannot fly on the wind, or go to the Place of the Great Spirit and come back down, no, or use white man’s engines. He walk, step by step. But, he can take short cut.” He folded the page. “Many miles. One step.”

Meg was jarred by a memory from when she was a girl. She had read a little science fiction in her preteens, before she dived into her mother’s romance novels because she wasn’t supposed to be reading them. Her interest had been limited as well as ephemeral, but the books of Madeline L’Engle had connected with her, well enough to sustain her interest. “A Wrinkle In Time,” she said. Then she added as the name came to her, “You’re talking about a tesseract.”

Joe shrugged, while Dr. Carradine nodded. “It fits with common elements of Native American folklore,” the professor said. “A number of entities are characterized as physical entities, while at the same time being credited with superhuman or wholly supernatural abilities. For example, the skinwalker, their version of the werewolf, is said to be able to travel hundreds of miles in a matter of hours. Then there are legends connected with Bigfoot in which the entity is said to be able to disappear, a detail which actually is reported in a number of well-substantiated sightings.”

Ling gave Joe a clearly incredulous look. “Let me see if I understand correctly,” he said. “You are suggesting that an ambulatory cadaver has the capability to fold space-time, and that it uses this ability for the express purpose of terrorizing a single waif.”

Joe shrugged. “What would you do with it? Go to the moon?”

“That’d be a bit of trouble,” Carlos said. “The orbit and rotation of the moon are completely different from Earth, and you’d experience the difference as instantaneous acceleration on touch-down. The potential energies’d make a bug on a windshield look like a soft landing. They never talk about that on Star Trek.”

He lifted the shoe, and slapped the heel down once on the table. “That leaves us with one thing to deal with right here and now: What happened to the rev that was wearing this shoe? 'Cause he bloody well wasn't walkin' away. By all rights, there should barely be enough left to twitch.”

“The possibility that the revenants have some capacity for regeneration has been under investigation for some time,” Ling said. “No conclusive evidence has been produced, and no one has had any particularly good ideas what evidence or experiments could prove it either way. Ultimately, the issue is only a symptom of a more fundamental problem, which is that we simply do not know how the revenants function or how much or little damage is truly necessary to eliminate them.”

“Aye,” Carlos said, “but still, any kind of vehicle impact usually does the trick. We find them on the roads all the time, and we’ve run down quite a few ourselves. We see busted heads, broken backs, missing limbs, and never any sign of anythin’ growing back.”

“This one different,” Joe said. He pointed at Meg. “He come for her. Don’t need reason, just her. His strength is her, and he grow strong from her. Then she will get weaker, and he will be bolder, and the others will follow, until she is one of them.”

“Roighta then,” Carlos said, “that oughta be simple enough. So long as we got what he wants, we know where he’s gonna be, and all we gotta do is be ready for ‘im.”

Joe shook his head emphatically. “No. No help her by killing him. Maybe make it worse. Must break the link. Make him go. Only way.”

“Okay,” Meg said, gazing at her own trembling hand. “How?”

“Do not talk to the dead man,” Joe said firmly. “The Law of the Fish People says, do no summon a dead man. If dead man come to a living man or wise old woman, they speak the words to tell him he is dead and return to the dead. But a dead man come to young woman must no say anything, only summon a man or an old woman. For, when a young woman speak to old man, she make him think he is young again, and if young woman speak to dead man, he will think he is alive again, and he return. But if the young woman do no speak, and a man and a wise woman speak the words to banish him, sometimes he go, and no return.”

“If that doesn't work,” Meg said, “then what?”

Joe shrugged. “Don't know,” Joe said. “Maybe you die. Sorry.”

Re-Deanimator Part 17: Fighting Fire With Firepower By David N. Brown

“It's perfectly fine if you smoke,” Professor Harrington told Laramie as he hefted a brick of plastic. He promptly set it down and took out a pair of binoculars. “This material is designed to be non-reactive to heat. I tested it.”

Laramie waggled an unlit cigarette in his lips. “How?” he asked.

“He took a batch home and threw it in the oven,” Carlos said as he returned. “How goes it, Harry?”

“The heat is definitely too great to approach,” Harrington said. “I'm also very concerned about the structural integrity of that storage tank. If it fails, there is a very strong possibility that it would result in a blast powerful enough to ignite the underground tanks.”

“That's a risk we're gonna have to take,” Carlos said. “What kind of safe range are we talking about?”

“For practical purposes, there is no safety margin,” Harrington said. “In the event of a truly catastrophic blast, there is no structure in the vicinity that could not be damaged or destroyed. If one takes into account the likelihood of secondary brush fires, the entire general area is at risk.”

“Then it's all or nothing,” Carlos said. “We do this thing now.”

“Hey, Dr. W,” Laramie muttered, “what happened to the oven?”

Carlos shrugged. “Well, I saw that kitchen 'fore and after... an' I say it needed takin' out anyway...”

“Let me get this straight,” Meg said as she was hustled off to Farther, “they're going to try to put out the fire with dynamite?”

“It has been done,” Ling said calmly. “In principal, it's no different from blowing out a candle. A sudden pressure wave disperses the oxygen, and possibly disrupts the fuel supply, and then the fire can no longer burn.”

“Who did it?” Meg pressed as she boarded the bus between Joe and Ling.

“I understand the Soviets have used air-dropped explosives to put out a forest fire,” the doctor replied.

“Oh, right, the Russians did it, so it must be a good idea,” Meg said.

The inside of Farther was well-furnished, though the overall look of the fittings and furnishings was Spartan. The entrance stairs ascended to a central corridor that went between a kitchen counter positioned behind the driver's seat and a typical push-together dinette. The bathroom was behind the dinette, and beyond it was a rear living room with a comfortably threadbare couch that converted to a bed. Meg sat on the couch between Ling and the two men, and Dianna and Janie squeezed in next to Joe. The students boarded, except for Laramie, and then the bus drove away with Dr. Carradine.

“I woulda liked to take you with me,” Carlos said, “but it just wasn't meant to be.”

“You always were a softie,” Elayne said. She pushed a button that started a countdown on the LED timer wired to three bricks of explosives under the hood of the Baja Bug. Laramie made the last adjustments inside the cab, and then jumped back as the Bug went cruising toward the gas station.

“Should we run?” Elayne said.

Carlos shook his head. “If this don't work, it won't matter.” He did not resist or protest when Elayne took his hand. Laramie lit a cigarette.

Lashing on the steering wheel held the Bug on a straight course across the road. “If it does, we spend tonight together,” Elayne whispered. “Accept, or disagree by three. One, two..”

As the Bug rolled into the gas station, flames ignited the canopy, and the rest of the vehicle went almost instantly ablaze. “Wednesday, and we can talk about the weekend,” Carlos muttered.

The lash-up began to fail, sending the vehicle yawing left and then back to the right. Then it went into a loop that brought it straight into the thickest part of the flame. Carlos put in ear plugs and dropped to a crouch behind an El Camino. Laramie and Elayne followed suit. The Bug erupted from the flames like a slow-moving meteor on slug-like molten tires. Carlos exhaled, and then ducked.

After the dramatic flames, the explosion was almost anticlimactic. There was an oddly dull KRRUUMMPPFF as what had been a smoking, flaming VW Beetle became, by all appearances, only smoke. Carlos and his companions did not see it, of course, but they were jolted by a profound shockwave that made the utility coupe rock like it was going over a pothole. From the rear of the bus, Meg saw the column of smoke lurch back like the Tower of Pisa in time lapse.

Carlos slowly raised his head to peer over the hood of the Camino. The view was obstructed by a deeply embedded remnant of a Beetle wheel well. The smoke was thicker than before, but there was no sign of fire except a hint of a red glow, right around the apparent center. He untensed, and started to smile, until he heard a creaking sound like the groan of a dying brontosaurus. “Elayne,” he said, “you can have tonight, too.”

Then the tank failed, and thousands of gallons of fuel spilled straight into the smoldering heart of the blaze.

Carlos smiled and waved at the returning crew and the rest of the fleet behind them. The worst of the spilled gasoline was being siphoned away with Yellow Pup's pump into a tank trailer that had survived the blaze. “It didn't go quite the way we planned,” he said, “but everything worked out all right in the end. Don't it always?” He cracked a smile at Laramie, who looked at Elayne, who gave a sly smirk.

“It's just like my old man used to say,” Carlos continued expansively as he led Harrington through the remnants of the gas station. “`You can fight fire with anything if you got enough of it.' Anything that disrupts the fuel-air mix enough can do the job... even if it's six thousand gallons of petrol.”

The spillage alone was enough to fill the newly-appropriated 1500-gallon tank trailer. Carlos and his crew quickly calculated that there was more than enough gas to fill every vehicle in the fleet, including the Yellow Submarine's tank, and every can and drum they carried along, and still have at least 10,000 gallons left over. Then Dr. Carradine pointed out a yellow 3000-gallon GMC Brigadier tank truck with a 2000-gallon trailer in tow. After long and loud, Dr. Carradine convinced Carlos to add it to the fleet, though the vehicle was promptly dubbed Jack Lemon.

“Looks like we’re headed for the Big Five-Oh,” Laramie said to Carlos.

“Nay,” he said. “We’re due to lose a few any day. In fact, I’d say we’re overdue.”

Meg stayed back at the shopping center. It was dominated by a sizable general store well-stocked with canned goods and other non-perishable foodstuffs. The students also uncovered a stock of beer, which was promptly snatched up for an epic celebration. There were also several outlet-style shops, including a toy store. Only when Meg saw children lining up outside did she realize how many there were, at least two dozen.

Dianna led the first troop of half-dozen inside, and Meg followed. The toys were rather incongruous mix of knock-offs, and nondescriptly generic toys. Meg took special notice of a little boy who seemed almost magnetically drawn to the cheapest and cheesiest of toys, the army men, rubber bugs, plastic dinosaurs, and other trinkets that one was more likely to find as arcade prizes and party favors than for sale.

Dianna was clearly giving the boy special attention, too. She walked up behind him and said, “Remember, you can have one.” He nodded with a mournful frown. He appeared to be torn between bags of astronauts, robots, and supposed dinosaurs that looked less like prehistoric life than a bad acid trip.

“Can I see those astronauts?” Meg asked. Tommy handed them over. Meg confirmed on cursory examination that the space men were copies of figures from a moon-landing playset her big brother had received for Christmas sometime before the event became reality. She even recognized most of the out-of-scale vehicles, including a wheel-shaped space craft.

“That's a space station,” Tommy said. “It spins so people don't float.”

“No,” Meg said, “it's a lander.” She pointed to a crude picture on the Spanish-language packaging. “Look, the picture shows it standing on those legs...”

Tommy shrugged. “It's just a picture. Sometimes they get things wrong.”

Janie walked up to her mother, carrying a cheaply-made but quite large monster truck. “Mommy?” she said. “Something died in here.”

“I'm Meg,” Meg said to the boy while Dianna investigated. “What's your name?”

“Tommy,” he said.

Meg couldn't help feeling a hint of nostalgia. “I'll tell you what,” she said. “Nobody said that grown-ups can't get their own toys. So I'll get this, and you can play with it later. Maybe you can tell me more about spaceships.” Tommy looked both ways, and hugged her.

Dianna returned. “It was a bird,” she said.

“Birds scare me when they're dead,” Janie added.

By then, the children had made their picks, or simply lost interest, and Dianna escorted them out. She clearly noticed the bag Meg was holding, but her only reaction was a hint of a smile. Then Meg saw that Dianna was holding the bag of ostensible dinosaurs.

As Meg stepped out of the store, she sneezed. Abruptly, Dr. Carradine was by her side. “Professor Wrzniewski believes we should talk,” he said.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Re-Deanimator Part 16: The Boyfriend's Back by David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Communication with the dead, if it occurs, should never be attempted; invariably, it confuses and distresses.

-H.R. Wakefield

Goddamn,” said Phil, “where do they all come from?”

Everywhere,” Laramie said.

Not less than thirty kudlaks were in plain view, and all of them were converging on the McDonald's. “It's my fault,” Carlos said. “I sent Meg there.” He leaned inside the van and pulled out an AK 47 with a hundred-round drum. “Lar, Daniel, you hold the fort. Harry, get what you need.”

Excuse me,” another interjected. Carlos looked over his shoulder to see Dr. Ling. He drew a revolver, casually took aim, and severed the spine of a kudlak ten yards away. “I believe I can be of some assistance.”

Nay,” Carlos said, eying the gun, “I think I might be...”

As he departed with the doctor, the other professor stepped into the rear of the van and came out holding a small crate. Laramie looked curiously over Harrington's shoulder as he took out another cigarette. Just as Laramie ignited his lighter, the professor lifted the lid, to reveal a box of brick-sized masses of a plastic-like substance.

Laramie put away the lighter.

What do you want?” Meg shrieked. Greg stepped forward, while the other kudlaks halted.

Joe lurched to his feet. “Woman,” he said, “do no talk to dead men!”

No!” she shouted, as if in rebuttal to some unheard voice. “It is mine! I gave you the money for it! It doesn't matter now, and what are you going to do with it, anyway?”

Joe clapped a hand over Meg's mouth. “If you talk to the dead,” he hissed, “they talk back.” Meg wrestled free of him, and actually took a step toward Greg.

Greg's head tilted, and then he lurched as a .410 blast raked his cheek. He gripped an anchored swiveling chair to steady himself, while whatever senses were really behind his unseeing gaze locked on his own gun in George's hand. With one motion, he ripped the chair from its moorings and hurled it over the counter. George instinctively ducked rather than taking a second shot. Meg then stepped directly into the line of fire.

Leave him alone!” she shouted. “You want me, here I am! Now what do you want?”

Greg moved his mouth, and there was a skirling sound exactly like static from a radio. “What do you mean? That's not true!” Meg shouted. He inclined his head like a silent martyr. “I had to go to the hospital!” He looked at her, a little less innocent. Meg's voice rose to a shriek: “Well, so what? You think that matters? You think it ever mattered? And you know what, I'm not sorry. I was never sorry. You deserved it, you bastard! If I could go back in time, the only thing I'd do different is to make you the one who went to the emergency room!”

Only then did Greg reach for her, and Meg belatedly retreated, only to find the pair behind her advancing. Joe lurched to her side, softly chanting as he swung the machete. Then Meg looked back to Greg, and her momentary sense of self interest evaporated. “What's it matter now, you sonuvabitch? You're dead. You're dead, and it's your fault. It's your own damn fault you're dead, so leave me alone!

For a moment, Greg seemed to hesitate. Then he hissed, and lunged, just as the Indian grabbed Meg and somehow managed to vault over the counter. Right about then, there was a rumble from the parking lot, and Greg looked back (or whatever they did) just as Yellow Pup came plowing straight through the doors.

Well,” Dianna said as she and Elayne stepped out of the cab and started shooting maimed and mangled kudlaks, “I guess we won't have to use the drive-thru...” She waved to Janie, who smiled and went down the slide.

Just then, Carlos poked his head in a broken window. “An' I suppose some thanks for us is out of the question...”

Elayne brushed past and murmured, “Oh, I could think of something...”

While others were dispatching kudlaks, Meg peered across the counter and then climbed right over, to kneel beside a brown shoe in front of the truck. “This is Greg's,” she said flatly. “Where's Greg?”

Ling double-tapped a one-eyed kudlak with his Mauser, which with its long barrel and detachable stock was closer to a carbine than a pistol. When the twitching subsided, he looked back to address Carlos: “I would like some clarification. Am I to understand that Meg is a member of your party who was bitten?”

Aye, she's one of us as far as I'm concerned,” Carlos answered. “You gonna make something of it?”

Ling smiled. “I should not think it is my affair. I would simply like you to be aware that I have experience dealing with these situations, probably- with all due respect- more than you.”

When and where?” Carlos asked.

Shkodra,” Ling said, “among other places.”

Carlos nodded. “Albania, aye? You got in early, then.”

In all likelihood, the beginning,” Ling said. “The best available evidence suggests that the revenation phenomenon began in northern Albania. At the time of the outbreak, I was present as part of a People's Republic humanitarian aid detachment.”

Did you take those guns with you?” Carlos mused.

This?” Ling said with a hint of a smile. “Strictly for personal defense.” An ambulatory kudlak had wandered up to the window. He turned the gun sideways and fired a short burst of fully automatic fire. The Mauser's fire cut left to right, catching the revenant in the neck. “Not much more than a ceremonial item, really.”

How 'bout t'other one?” Carlos said.

Ling lifted it from the holster. “This? It's a Nagant M1895 double-action gas-sealed revolver. It was manufactured in Tsarist and Soviet Russia through the Great Patriotic War, and some were exported to the PRC after the war... But, I expect you are already familiar with it.”

Aye, you could say I've seen it up close,” Carlos said coolly. “The one I saw had an extra bit, to suppress the sound of the shots. I wouldn'ta heard it myself, if I hadn'ta been in the same room. Wouldn'ta seen it, either, except the guy went for officials and officers first. You wouldn't have something like that stowed away in your luggage, would you?”

Professor Wrzniewski,” Ling said, “the suppressed variant of the M1895 was only issued to special operatives on missions of assassination.” He pointedly said no more.

Meg knelt again, beside a badly mangled kudlak outside the door. Its jaw had been blown off, and the rest of the damage could only be from a massive application of force. Dr. Carradine took one look and said, “This one must have been hit by another revenant after it was thrown by the truck.”

Yeah,” Meg said. “But where's Greg?

You believe this Greg was the one you spoke to?” George asked.

I... Wait, I said something? I don't... I must have zoned out. I suppose I just babbled, right?” George did not venture to contradict her. “But, yeah, I'm sure one of them was Greg. Even if I wasn't... You see this shoe? It looks fancy, and I guess the name brand on it is supposed to be a big deal. It's fake. Greg got it eight months ago at a flea market. The dealer admitted it was knock-off, but he insisted the leather was just as good. He said something about the leather coming from an eel...”

It's made from the skin of a Pacific hagfish, also known as the slime eel,” Dr. Carradine said. “It's not a true eel, or even a fish in the conventional sense, but a jawless, cartilaginous vertebrate that lives in deep marine environment. It is called a slime eel because it secretes large quantities of a viscous substance as a defense mechanism. It is also well-known for scavenging, which is the main reason I am familiar with them. A few years ago, the Koreans started making leather products out of it, and it was becoming a major export item. The manufacturers always call it eelskin, presumably because they would prefer that potential customers remain unfamiliar with the animal's biology.”

So, my boyfriend's best shoes came from a bottom-dwelling, toothless, boneless, slime-spewing scavenger,” Meg said. “Yeah, that's Greg all over. So, if we're going at this like a crime scene, the shoe's right where he would have been when the truck hit him, like, it got knocked right off. Then it only makes sense that he hit this guy here. So... where's Greg?”

Ling and Joe talked in Navajo as the doctor tended to the Indian's injuries. As Meg and Dr. Carradine walked up, Joe paused at a curt interjection by the doctor. “Any idea what just happened?” Meg whispered.

If I'm not mistaken,” Carradine said, “the doctor just corrected Joe's grammar.”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Re-Deanimator Part 15: Grease Trap By David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Meg ventured back to the counter. “So, what did you find?” she said. “Food? Money?”
Elayne laughed. “The food went south weeks ago,” Dianna said. “It was already pretty well picked over, and believe me, we're lucky for that. As for cash... well, we're pretty much back on the barter system, except the main commodity is fuel. That is what we have here.”
In a McDonald's?” Meg said incredulously.
Not gasoline, of course,” Dianna added. “Biofuel, which is vegetable oil, which comes down to plain old kitchen grease. Most of our diesels can run on it, and so can Davey, Monstro and Horace Horsehauler. There's still a batch of the stuff in the fryer, and there's drums of it back here; we're still counting them. For the drums, we'll probably just call the boys to roll 'em out, and we can pump out the stuff in the trap with Yellow Pup. I'm thinking a hose through the drive-thru window... Can you go check the back?”
Certainly,” Meg said. She hefted the rifle Carlos had given her and stepped outside. George followed without a word. As their footsteps receded, Dianna looked out the window, and swore.

Roighta, now we can get down to business,” Carlos said as the new arrivals pulled in. One was Big Red, the A108 cargo van, and the other was a T2 Bus camper. The driver of the Bus was a mild-mannered man of perhaps 45, accompanied by a woman about ten years younger. Carlos strode up to the Bus, and pointed to the burning station. “Harry. We're going to put out that fire.”
The driver was named Henry Harrington, and he was a former professor of materials engineering. He took one look at the fire, and shook his head. “It can't be done, Dr. Wrzniewski,” he said. “To be sure, it could be put out, but it would take equipment we don't have.”
Carlos shook his head. “Wrong answer, Harry. We're going to put that fire out, and you're going to tell me how to do it.”
Dr. Wrzniewski,” Harrington said, “perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough: The standard equipment of a typical fire brigade would not be adequate for a fire of this type. They would bring in a specialized vehicle with several thousand gallons of chemicals. Now, what do you think I have that could possibly work as a substitute?”
Carlos grinned. “Perhaps I didn't make myself clear: That fire is going to be put out, therefore we will put it out, therefore we can put it out. An' I already have a few ideas, I just want your expert opinion on what will work.”
Well, if you put it that way,” Harrington said, “I suppose we have three materials we could work with: Water, gasoline... and, of course, my specialty.”
Welcome aboard, Harry,” Carlos said. They walked up to the cargo van together. Carlos took only a brief glance over his shoulder at the sound of gunfire.

One end of the drive-through was blocked by a van that had jumped the curb and two more cars that had crashed into it. Meg and Joe circled back around the other way. Janie waved to Meg from the top of a slide.
The kudlak was right outside the drive-thru window, with its back turned. If the window had not been shut, Dianna could have put the muzzle of the Luger right to the base of its skull. After a moment's pondering, she dropped to one knee, resting one wrist on the cashier's counter. She fired twice, and twice more. The bullets did not shatter the glass, but left it nearly opaque with fractures. She heard a protracted scraping, but not the decisive thump of a fall. She stood up and leaned closer to the window, hoping for some glimpse of what was outside. The hint of a shadow was enough for her to take one step back before a pair of pale hands thrust straight through the glass. She grabbed for her cane, but overreached and lost her balance.
Lady Elayne burst in, just in time to see Dianna fall and skid just out of reach of a kudlak that leaned through the window to grasp at her. At least two more kudlaks were pressing in behind the first. Elayne had a Tommy Gun at ready, but she instinctively dropped to Dianna's side. Dianna met her concerned gaze and said, “Wasn't worth the window.” Then she kicked the grasping kudlak in the ear and emptied the Luger into its skull.
There were five kudlaks jostling outside the drive-through window, in addition to two already down. One immediately looked up, or whatever it was they did, as Meg peered around a corner made by the space between a second entrance and the playground fence. It came straight for Meg. It made three plodding steps before she felled it with three bullets to the head. Two more came at her straight away, and one more was moving to join them when it took a magnum slug in the spine. Meg fired five shots at another and hit it at least twice, once in the ear and then in the back of the head as it reeled; it howled as it dropped. But her last two shots cleanly missed the second attacker, which wore a tattered Mac's uniform. The last kudlak turned to join the attack, giving no heed to a stitching volley of full auto fire from the Tommy, and the first one that Meg had felled sat up.
The kudlak in the uniform advanced with loping steps, changing course slightly to avoid the reviving kudlak underfoot. That gave Joe time enough to lunge in front of Meg. He held his totem doll in one hand, and in the other a rusty machete that looked like it would be more effective as a bludgeon. “You are dead,” he said sternly, and the kudlak actually halted. “Go to the dead. Go forth with the Traveler.”
He thrust the doll in the kudlak's face. If it did any good, it was only to save his own life. The kudlak shoved him aside with a guttural grunt, straight through the glass of a second entrance. Then it lunged for Meg, just as she managed to slap a new clip in the gun with her trembling hand. The trembling abruptly stopped as a leathery hand stroked the bandage on her arm. Then there was a brief lapse in her consciousness, which ended when she registered a clicking sound. Then she discovered that she was pulling the trigger on an empty gun, pressed to what was left of the head of the uniformed kudlak at her feet. She raised her eyes to see the other two, standing within a yard of her and just staring.
If they had pounced upon her then and there, Meg could scarcely have been less terrified. Their eyes were clearly sightless; one had lost an eye to her own gun. Yet their faces oriented perfectly toward her, with only a hint of their characteristic bobble-head swaying, and even that seemed menacingly purposeful. They stepped forward slowly and simultaneously. Suddenly, Meg found herself seized from behind and lifted off the ground. She screamed and kicked until Joe set her down, just outside the worst of the broken glass.
Get down!” George shouted from behind the counter. They complied, and he emptied the revolver. His only hit blew the jaw off the first kudlak through the door, and the sole effect was that it lurched back and bumped into the other, one-eyed kudlak. After a moment of mutual discombobulation, both sidled to either side and resumed their advance in perfect lockstep. The one-eyed kudlak gave a hiss and took a longer stride as it stepped over Joe's doll. A suspicion dawned in Meg's mind as she remembered something Daniel had said, about the revenants spreading out more with greater numbers. She looked over her shoulder, and sure enough, five more were advancing toward the smashed doors where they had come in.
Then she cried out at a sound of a slamming door inside the restaurant. Rhythmic goosesteps sounded from the direction of the bathrooms. As the first of the new arrivals shuffled inside, another strode in to take the lead. A good look at the face only confirmed what Meg somehow already knew.
It was Greg.

Re-Deanimator Part 14: Sacred Clowns by David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

After numerous dead ends and detours, Little Willy rolled into a collection of buildings that was halfway between a town and a truck stop. The scouting party now included the FC multipurpose tanker known as Yellow Pup, driven by Dianna. The smoke from what was obviously the gas station looked as bad as ever, but a the strip mall across the main road looked reasonably approachable.
The expedition entered the strip mall parking lot through a gravel access road. A few revenants came straight for Little Willy, which made it that much easier for Carlos and Daniel to pick them off. Carlos called a halt at a souvenir shop built in the charmingly tasteless likeness of a giant cowboy hat. “Roighta, here we split up,” he said. “Meg and Joe, you're with George and Elayne. See what you can find here, then check out the Mac's.” He pointed at a McDonald's across the looped lane. “Phil, you're comin' with me an' Daniel to see what's going on at the station. The rest of you are free to look around the shops, but stay together, in pairs at least.”
George sorted through a rack of maps outside, while Meg and the others wandered into the little interior shop. Elayne looked over a modest selection of mainly Indian-themed souvenirs, Joe rooted through the candy bars, and Meg perused a rack of moderately aged paperbacks. “Joe,” she said. He looked over his shoulder with a vaguely perplexed expression. She held out a book. It was a volume of MAD magazine's “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” feature. “I saw you reading Spy Vs. Spy, so I thought you might like this.”
Joe flipped once through the pages, and then politely put the book in his purse-like bag. Meg tried not to look hurt as he shuffled out of the store. “Carlos goes nuts over these,” Elayne said, pointing to a bin of polished and dyed rocks. She began scooping large handfuls into a designer handbag. Meg turned away, to find herself face to fare with Dr. Carradine.
The scientist pointed to Joe, who was swaying and humming at the curb. “He's a genius, you know,” Carradine said, very quietly. “I have worked with him, on and off, for ten years, and I'm absolutely certain, if we could give a fair and accurate test of his IQ- which we can't- his score would be literally off the charts. He speaks a dozen languages, that I know about. There's nothing he doesn't know about the animals, plants, minerals and ecology of the Sonoran desert. He taught me most of what I know about traces, and I believe the only thing he ever learned from me was how to express what he already knows in terms I and others like me might understand. He is also, as far as I know... completely illiterate.”
As they stepped outside, George continued, “He isn't comfortable in a place like this, regardless.” Meg nodded, and glanced at Elayne, who was taking one last look at a kachina doll, prominently labeled “AUTHENTIC”. She wiggled its arm up and down like an action figure. George shrugged. “Objects like that won't mean anything to him, or even the people who made it. As a rule, those dolls are made by Indians... but they make them for us, and they make sure that the features that would make an object meaningful and powerful to them are left out. That, I think, is what makes them upsetting to the more conservative elements of the native communities... not that representations of their faith being marketed commercially, but that the people buying them don't know or care enough to understand how poor the representations are.”
“Yeah,” Meg said, “I suppose it would be like having someone root through your fine china and then steal your Tupperware.”
George chuckled. “Mark my words... an Indian would take the Tupperware every time.”
“So would Carlos Wrzniewski,” Elayne chimed in from behind.
They reached the McDonald's to find Joe standing solemnly before a two-thirds life-size sculpture of Ronald McDonald. Meg glimpsed a Ronald toy in his hand. It was one of the old kids' meal toys, cast in monochrome rubber but painted by hand. At the others' approach, he quickly but discretely put it in his bag. Dianna beeped as she pulled up, and managed to jump down almost as quickly as her daughter. “Janie, look, there's a playground,” she said, pointing to an enclosed play area. “You can play, while Uncle George and I work. Don't worry if you hear any noises, but call if you see anything. Love you.” She stooped to hug her daughter with one arm, and drew a Luger as she straightened.
The glass of the front door had already been shattered, from within. Dianna entered first, sweeping away the worst of the glass with her cane and then clearing the door with a sprightly hop. She beckoned with her cane, and the others followed. Meg carried Janie over the threshold. The girl squirmed to be let down, and ran straight for the playground entrance. “I'm a big girl,” she said over her shoulder.
“You watch her,” Dianna told Meg. “We're going to be in the kitchen.” She hopped her way out of sight, followed by Elayne and Dr. Carradine. Moments later, Meg heard two shots from the Luger, and one from her own magnum.
Meg stepped up to the window to look at the playground, telling herself it was concern for the girl but knowing what she really wanted was to relive her own memories. The familiar characters were there, as she remembered them, though she knew that many had been quietly changed or retired in more recent years. She was immediately struck by a thoroughly villainous sculpture of the Hamburglar, which served as an entirely disturbing swing set. A “jail” in the maw of Officer Big Mac was just as disturbing in its own way, making Meg think of an ogre ready to devour unsuspecting children. Even the likeness of Grimace at the top of the slide was vaguely unsettling, with his original four octopus-like arms stretched out for grasping. None of it, however, had the slightest effect on Janie, who was happily swinging under Hamburglar's outstretched arm.
“You see,” Joe said, taking Meg by surprise. “You see and understand, even when you do not know. What you see, my people know: the Paohetone.” He opened his bag and took out the Ronald McDonald toy, and others like it, including some characters that Meg had to wrack her brain to remember. He went through the process without looking directly at her, unless it was in brief, flitting glances while she was in the periphery of his vision.
“Wait a minute,” Meg said, “are you talking about your gods?”
Joe stared at her like a Catholic priest who had just heard it suggested that holy water was just water. “No. Not gods,” he said, not quite shouting. He raised a pointing finger, and jabbed upward at the sky for emphasis. “One God. One. But many Paohetone. Their name means Givers, Those Who Perpetually Give. They give all good things to men from the One God who is the Unnameable Great Spirit, but they are...” He pondered a moment, and shrugged. “Different.”
From his bag, he lifted an object that an anthropologist would have recognized as an authentic kachina doll, a very crude effigy with an oversized head or mask, decorated with geometric patterns of somber black and white. He held it beside the Hamburglar, and there was no denying a casual resemblance. After letting her take a look, he put the doll back, quickly but carefully, as if concealing evidence of a forbidden deed.
My people, called Fish People,” Joe said. “We live by the great river, and fish in streams. But other tribes come. First, we trade, fish, skins, daughters and sons. We teach them ways of Paohetone, and while they listen they become many and strong. But then drought come. Other tribes do not share their food, their water. Then they tell us to go, and they are many and strong, so we do. We go, out into the desert. The land is hard, and then hard men come. Apache. White men, first with iron swords and shells, then with guns. Brown men, too, the buffalo men. The buffalo men, not so bad. They beat us, but treat us like men. The Apa Che...” He hissed the word with venom. “The worst. They hunt Fish People like the hare, butcher and roast us while we live. But even they, no worse than plagues. No Fish People, any more. Only Joe.”
Okay, but...” Meg waved at the figurines. “These are toys for kids. The characters were made up to sell food. I think they got sued for copying them from something else.”
Joe shrugged, and glanced out at Janie. “Children understand the Givers. Like her. So do those who see with young eyes. Like you. The men who make these, just enough to bring forth their likeness without knowing.”
He arranged the figures in a more orderly manner. “The Paohetone are not gods,” he repeated. “Not like ghosts, either. They touch. Eat. Drink. They marry and make sons and daughters, with mortal men and women as well as their own. Some tales say they may die. They are...” He pondered. “Messengers. No. Graces of the the Great Spirit. They live on the shores of the Great Lake that is the place of the dead, and they go forth to walk among men, as men. They bring good to men, but what they do is not always good, as the Great Spirit is good.”
He pointed to Ronald. “When our medicine men who take their masks and act out their deeds, white men call them clowns. Not wrong, but not the full truth. The way of the clown is to teach a lesson, by doing the opposite. White men forget that. Sometimes, the Givers do the same, and they seem to do what is wrong. But even their bad deeds are in truth for the good of man. If they act as fools, it is so all men can see their foolishness, and know wisdom. If they lie, it is so all men know they are lying, and see truth. If they cheat men of what is ours, it is so we will better care for what remains, and do better to each other.”
He tapped his finger on Ronald, and then the Hamburglar. “There are two chiefs of the Givers, and some tales say they are but one in two guises: The Teacher, and the Traveler. The Teacher shows men what is good and wise. The Traveler brings all good things to men, but he also takes. He even brings men's souls from the Great Lake to be born, and takes them back when they are dead.”
Kokopelli,” Meg said. “What you said about bringing children is what the other tribes believe about him... and the other part could be something they forgot, or left out, or just don't talk about.”
Joe shrugged, and continued pointing. “The other Paohetone go at the bidding of a chief, or else they are guises of one chief.” He tapped on Grimace, whose paint included the extra set of arms. “Innocence is first, perhaps a chief. He is like a child, he acts foolishly, and often selfishly, but even his greed is as a child's greed.” He pointed to Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac and what Meg recognized with a little brain-racking as Captain Crook. “These are Plenty, Peace and Prosperity, and sometimes they are rivals.” He held up the Early Bird last. “I think she is one called Ne Pahena No. She is the Giver to young brides, and guardian in the time of the Traveler's coming.” He shrugged and swept the figures into the bag.
Meg looked back at the strange man, who continued to make a point of not looking back at her. It was not hard, and perhaps a bit too easy, to scale the picture he had presented down to size. She had no doubt that he was everything Dr. Carradine said. She was also fairly certain that he was at least not pulling her leg. But, even if the essence of his story were true, he was no more a fount of historical wisdom than she was about English history. He was, by his own effective admission, nothing more or less than the lone survivor of a culture that had been ravaged to the brink of extinction before he was even born. There was no way to know how much of what he had received had been garbled, distorted or willfully invented, or how much else might have been lost. Nor, for that matter, was there any way to guess how much of what he had said was the fruit of his obviously gifted and inventive mind.
Dianna broke the silence, appearing behind the counter to say, “We hit the jackpot here. I'm calling for backup.” As she disappeared again, she muttered, “Joe's showing somebody his figurines again.”
After further awkward silence, Meg decided to try to take the conversation in another direction. “I can tell you're very smart,” she said. “So... have you ever thought about trying to learn better English?”
I speak English fine,” Joe said. The change in his voice was abrupt and radical, with not just perfect and unaccented diction but a stentorian delivery worthy of a Shakespearean play. Then he went back to speaking as he had before: “But, as my grandfather tell me, there is white man's talk, and then there is talk for white man.”
Why?” Meg said, not really expecting an answer.
For a moment, Joe looked directly into her eyes. “Because for white man,” he said, “you talk slloooowwwwllllyyyyy...”

From close range, it was clear that the fire at the gas station was not as bad as it seemed from a distance, but, if anything, even more dangerous. Smoke and flame engulfed the pumps, but the rest of the complex appeared relatively intact. Unfortunately, that included at least one above-ground storage tank just visible in the midst of the flames. “Come on,” Phil said, white-faced, “what's to talk about? It's already gone! The rest could go any minute!”
Nay,” Carlos said. “If there wasn't fuel left, the fire wouldn't be going like that. An' if the main storage tanks were compromised, they would 'ave brewed up already. The smokies prob'ly just shot up a storage tank, set a light and left it to burn. They didn't even make time to trash the place proper. Most of the gas is still there. The only thing we have to worry about is the tank that's already on fire.”
So what?” Phil said. “It doesn't matter how much gas is left, you still can't get to it! You can't!
Carlos stared through him. “That's the coward's way talking. If it's there, we can get it. We just have to find a way to get to it.”

Re-Deanimator Part 13: No Reservations by David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Carlos kept the bayonet of his weapon at the raider's throat as he climbed out of the station wagon hatch. “Roighta then,” he said, “so it seems to me, I got about two good reasons not to blow your 'ead off right 'ere. One, I just washed this thing. Two, you can tell your piss-poor backup in the wash on the other side of those saguaros come forward and lay down their weapons.”
“I tell 'em that, they'll just shoot me and you,” the raider answered.
“Aye, that sounds about right,” Carlos answered. “How 'bout you tell me how many there are?”
The raider was black, and his companion looked white but swore in fluent Spanish as he crouched clutching a bloody nose. “We no shoot you,” the second raider said. “We cut you up like machaca.”
The black raised his hands placatingly. “We got one more back there, okay?” he said. Carlos nodded. “There ain't nobody else. Honest truth.” After a moment of consideration under Carlos's stern gaze, he added, “Look, I'm not gonna call you `brother', but I'm tellin' ya, on my word as a bro, the rest are long gone, and they ain't comin' back for nothin'. There was some crazy shooting, sounded like the army comin', and everybody figure it bad hoodoo either way. We just stayed to make sure nobody follows us.”
It was enough to get the bayonet away from his throat. “For the record, I'm disgusted to think I'm in the same species as you,” Carlos said, without any particular rancor. “An' that wasn't the army, just Kilroy... Eh, scratch the `just'.”
The raider looked perplexed, and all the more so when he saw Carlos's near-incredulity at his ignorance. “I don't know no `Kilroy', but are you talkin' 'bout the Great White Hunter?”
“Never heard 'im called by that name, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say yes,” Carlos said. “We found his calling card back at the last turnoff... Did one of you see him before?”
“Ain't nobody never see the Hunter, and ain't nobody who wants to” the raider said. “But nobody needs to see him to know, a brother does what a brother gotsta do, but that kinda crazy only come in vanilla!”
“Aye, we pretty well figured as much,” Carlos said. “I'll tell you what. I can see you want to get out of here as much as we do. So, if you march back to the saguaros and drive away, we won't follow you. And there's one more thing... I have heard the name `Great White Hunter' before, just not here. It was a story- lots of stories, actually- I heard over there, and I've thought about it on and off myself. The one part of the story we knew was true is that sometimes, we found people we were looking for, usually out in the jungle but right where we would see 'em, after somebody else found 'em first. Sometimes, they were missing a piece, and sometimes, the piece was all we found. It wasn't just their guys either. And the stories went that it was all one guy, American special forces, crazy good, an' just plain crazy. If it was, then he had done enough time to go home twice, but the stories said he didn't want to, and the brass figured it was safer to have him over there than back at home. He also followed orders, well enough that they let him do things his own way. Like, he used a varmint gun. More challenge, or else showin' what he thought of the competition. And what he liked best of all was to catch his man alive first, and then take him out in the jungle for real one-on-one. So, he kept at it for a long time, until one got away. And for that, they finally sent him home.”
My real bro was over there,” the raider said. “He didn't come back, not even in no bag. But he managed to send letters home, tellin' what it was really like. An' what you told me, he told us. We think he tried to get home on his own, and maybe, the Hunter went after him.”
As the raiders turned away, Carlos said, “Don't do anything you don't have to.” Several bodies lay sprawled around the military truck, two of them armed raiders and the rest fallen kudlaks. A single goosestepping soldier fell to a shotgun blast.
If anybody's there, we're here to help,” Carlos announced.
A voice answered, with a hint of an English accent and a further hint of Asian descent: “We already called for help.”
Another speaker cut in: “I am Colonel James Clapham of the US Army Medical Corps. Whom am I addressing?”
Carlos Wrzniewski... and if you don't believe it, it's fine with me.”
Actually, I believe I have heard of you,” the colonel answered. “A bit of business in Manilla, as I recall, about 30 years ago.”
Won't say it doesn't ring a bell,” Carlos said. “What can you tell me about what you're doing out here?”
The other speaker answered: “We are the surviving crew of a research outpost, formed as a joint operation by the United States Army Medical Corps, the United States Center for Disease Control, and the United Nations Coordinated Revenant Action Bureau. I am Dr. Charles Ling, liaison for the People's Liberation Army.”
Where were you headed?” Carlos asked.
West,” Ling answered, “for a reservation.”
Really,” said Carlos. “I heard they shut them down.”
Our destination is a secure and well-supplied evacuation center, on tribal land leased to the federal government,” Clapham said. He stepped forward, confirming Carlos's suspicion that he was black. “The name `reservation' was never official, and its use has created unfortunate perceptions. We can help you and anyone with you.”
I do believe I'll pass,” Carlos said. “And I'd appreciate it if you set your weapons outside.
You may have heard rumors regarding the original evacuation centers,” Clapham said. “There were serious problems. The program was, by necessity, hastily conceived. The need for security forces and especially resupply was underestimated. There were frequent breaches, and a number of posts were lost. Initial efforts to improve security were... heavy-handed. We learned from our mistakes.”
Corporal Wrzniewski, I can assure you evacuation is in no way compulsory,” the colonel said. “You have the right to decline entry to an evacuation center, and you will retain the right to leave. All measures to the contrary have been rescinded on my personal recommendation. As a registered resident of an evacuation center, you will have the same liberties and be under no more restrictions than military personnel on base. Outside travel will be subject to restrictions, and permanent departure will involve a formal exit application, and may be postponed in times of emergency. Any possessions you report at the time of admission will be acknowledged as your personal property, regardless of how they were obtained. All I would ask from you, Wrzniewski, is to hear me out, and let anyone with you do the same.”
Counterproposal,” Carlos said. He blasted the radio mast with his shotgun. “I expect you've been making regular broadcasts. Missing one will get you help faster, if it's comin' at all. You're going to have to wait here for them, and that should be more than enough time for us to get out of here. Say whatever you like, but if any of you come looking for me and mine, it's not going to be nearly as pleasant.”
Pardon me,” Ling said, stepping forward. He carried a very large briefcase and a Mauser pistol with a removable wooden stock. “I am not a member of the US military, and my primary orders from my own government are to observe the situation in this country. It occurs to me that I could do that at least as well in your company as in theirs. Therefore, I am requesting to join your party.”
No questions were asked as Carlos and Daniel returned with the newcomer. “Change of plans,” he said. “We're in a collision zone here: Hordes coming from multiple directions, and all kinds of people trying to stay ahead of them comin' together in the middle. The best thing we can do is double back to Pete's and look for another way. I already signaled Dianna to pack up camp, but we'll be in the lead, same as we planned. Phil says that there are enough maintenance roads and cattle tracks to get us back on the road to the south. It's gonna be a hard drive, but we can make it where we want to go by sunset at the latest. We might find a few good places to stop on the way. That will be all.”
As noon approached, the Willys Jeep was tooling down a winding dirt road in the direction of the rising smoke in the south. A helicopter descended to pick up the stranded colonel. Not far from the scene of the rescue, a battered car lay rolled over in a dry wash screened by cacti. From atop a tall saguaro, three severed heads surveyed the desert. The heads of two Latinos were on either arm, and on the highest central spire, the black raider stared out sightlessly with the hole from a .45 slug in his forehead.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Re-Deanimator Part 12: Kilroy Was There by David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Previously published at

The geology students Meg had seen the day before were gathered by the Goliath. Laramie lit up as he joined them. “Those things'll kill you, you know,” one of the other male students said.
Carlos laughed as he sidled up. “Nuh-uh,” he said. “No cancer's gonna get this boy... He's gonna buy it quite a bit sooner from somethin' a lot more interesting!” Then he pointed to a line-up of four vehicles: The Willys Jeep, the Jeep van, Dodgzilla and the Edsel.
Joe and I will be leadin' in Little Willie with the civvies,” he said. He pointed to the van. “This is Squaremu, your chariot for the day. It's good for eight people, an' it's got six doors an' four-by-four drive. Too good to be true, but we're takin' it anyway. Dan and Becky will be takin' the Dodge, and as a bonus, they'll have this.” At a turn of a crank, the stake bed sides slid down like a ladder, revealing the tiny Subaru. “George an' Elayne will take up the rear in Edsel Amblewagon, and Farter and Yellow Cab will come with us as far as the highway. If there's big trouble, they'll come running.”
Joe took the wheel of the Jeep, and Carlos rode shotgun, literally. “Hey, that's a different gun than yesterday,” Meg said as she climbed in behind him. “Could I take a look?”
I'll show you mine if you show me yours,” said Carlos. She handed him Greg's revolver, and he handed her a well-worn pump shotgun with a spike bayonet. “That's a Winchester 1912, Winnie the Pump. Your people used it in both of the big wars, and you were still usin' it at the start of the other one. I picked one up over there, an' never found one that suited me better, except the snubbie for when it's up close an' personal an' my old man's double for just'n case... An' holy sheeeiit, this thing's big!”
It's my boyfriend's,” Meg said. “I've only fired it once, when I shot him.”
Then I'm bloody impressed you didn't lose your hand,” Carlos said. “We gotta get you a gun that you can use.” He swung out the cylinder. “I'll be damned, this is a combination gun. See how long it is? That's so it can take shotgun shells. George has been looking for one of these...”
He can have it,” Meg said. She accepted a gun that looked just like her old beebee gun.
Hey,” Phil said, looking down at the narrow tires, “is this a wartime jeep?”
Aye,” Carlos said. “Joe says the BIA gave it to him right after the war, maybe before. This was the same model jeep General Patton rode in.”
Awesome,” Meg said.
As the jeep started, Carlos looked over his shoulder and grinned. “He died in a jeep accident.”
The sun was just coming over the horizon as the jeep roared down the road. Meg was pretty sure Joe was humming, though it was hard to tell because of the rushing wind. She shouted to Carlos: “I came from the north. I went south first, there was supposed to be a gas station, but then I saw this huge cloud of smoke, and a lot of them on the road. I turned around and went east.”
Was there a throughway west?” Carlos roared.
She pondered a moment. “Yeah, but it was a dirt road. And... I saw more smoke.” Carlos gave a frown. Clearly, what she had said meant far more to him than it had to her. Carlos called a halt at the turnoff, where a thin column of smoke was still rising in the near distance. The stop was obviously planned anyway, but he jumped to his feet and swore at an unexpected sight that certainly hadn't been there when Meg came through the first time. On their left, erected overnight like the volcano that was supposed to have formed in a day in a Mexican corn field, was a mound 3 meters high made entirely of still-grisly skulls.
The Edsel pulled up alongside the Willys. “This explains the quiet night,” Dr. Carradine said.
Aye,” said Carlos. “Kilroy was here.” Dr. Carradine got out to examine the carnage, while he turned to address the van load of students. “All right, we got smokies, an' on top of that, we hit Kilroy's trail again, only fresh this time. The good news is, they prob'ly got nothin' to do with each other. We know what to do 'bout the smokies, an' if there's anythin' anybody knows about Kilroy, it's that Kilroy doesn't mess around with the small stuff. So if we just keep rollin', we got no reason to think Kilroy will do anything but let us go.”
Are you a coroner or something?” Meg asked Carradine.
No, I'm a paleontologist like Dr. Wrzniewski,” the scientist answered as he gently removed a skull from the top. “But my specialty is ichnology, the study of trace fossils like footprints. I also study taphonomy, the study of how living animals end up the way we find them as fossils, and that includes training and some experience in forensic pathology.”
He continued to talk as he examined the skull. “The `smokies' are raiders who travel in groups and destroy what they don't take. The large bands alone number in the hundreds, or did. But there is only one Kilroy, and almost everyone on the road has heard of him. We ran across `his' work before, and even without this, there's no mistaking it.” He held up a skull with a sizable hole at precisely the spot where the brain would join with the spinal column, noticeably charred at the edges. “This is from a Browning fifty-caliber tracer round, normally fired from machine guns. This, however, was clearly fired from a special-purpose rifle, at a range of not less than 1000 meters. Then there's this... The damage looks like a machete, but I believe a Nepalese kukri is more likely. The blow was sufficient to damage or even sever the spinal cord, and it was delivered while the specimen was fully upright. ”
As he told the story, Meg realized even she had heard bits of it. “Nobody has ever claimed to have seen 'Kilroy', and there's no reason they would have: Most of the people on the road stay behind the swarms, like we do, but by all indications, Kilroy stays ahead of them, killing one or a few at a time from the leading edges. It's not really one person. It would take a small crew just to macerate these skulls- I would know, we do it. But I believe the majority of the kills have a signature consistent with the work of one man.”
He pulled out more skulls for illustration. “The ammunition is mainly 5.56 mm rimfire cartridges, with additional .45 ACP handgun rounds and four-ten bore shotgun shells. The lack of exit wounds points to ranges of 20 to 120 meters, quite long for weapons of these calibers. I suspect that two primary weapons are involved, a .22 magnum rimfire rifle with an over-under .410 barrel, and a similar carbine or pistol with an unchoked, full combination barrel for firing .45's as slugs. If I'm right, then the kills have to be made with single shots. It would appear probable that the same individual carries a double-handed edged weapon, which is favored at close range. Military experience is a foregone conclusion.”
He pulled more skulls from the bottom. “The other major firearms signatures are almost certainly from the support crew. There's more than I saw before, presumably because of the large number of targets engaged. These multiple .22 impacts are from one, possibly two medium-powered center-fire semi-automatic rifles at 100 to 200 meters. Even allowing for the differences in range, the accuracy isn't as high as the other kills, but still very good by any standard. We have a few kills at similar ranges with high-powered rifle, probably a novice but not without skill. Then we have shotgun blasts, and some rather mediocre handgun fire, possibly from an antique revolver, and finally the edged weapons. Those are generally axes and hatchets used purely for the decapitation, or at most to deliver a coup de grace, but some are consistent with combat. Like this... I wouldn't swear to it, but it looks like a flint tomahawk.”
And these people will really just leave us alone?” Meg asked.
Carradine shrugged. “It's obvious that `Kilroy' is potentially very dangerous. It's also obvious that the Kilroy would not exercise his obviously considerable skill without making it obvious that he did it, or tolerate it if his companions did anything that did not reflect his own wishes. Therefore, since nobody has found any reason to suspect that Kilroy is responsible for anything but killing the revenants, the reasonable conclusion is that it is his choice not to do anything else.”
Make that so far,” said Carlos. “An' I still say, the faster and farther we can get away from here, the better. But first, we take care of the smokies...”
Joe and Daniel were the only people in the Willys jeep as they drove forward, followed by the Edsel. Soon, they saw the source of the smoke, a burning tank truck that was one of several knocked-out vehicles painted an obvious military green. Two figures in military fatigues goosestepped toward the new arrivals. Daniel felled them with one shotgun blast each. “This is a military convoy,” he said. “It looks like five trucks and only one jeep for the armed escort. The raiders destroyed the jeep and raided the trucks. One of them is immobilized, but otherwise intact... It has ambulance markings, and a radio mast. There could be survivors.”
Aye,” Carlos said over the radio, “there would be. The brass got sloppy, an' the smokies got cocky. They not only shot up the convoy, they left a few people alive to call for more chumps. They wouldn't all stick around, in case real muscle showed up, but there's gonna be enough hanging around to ambush a light party by themselves, and more on call. And we are very light.”
They're soldiers, Doctor,” Daniel answered calmly. Carlos's only answer was a sigh.
The jeep drove away with two new passengers, leaving the Edsel sitting forlorn. Minutes passed, and more. As the half-hour mark approached, two men sidled up to the car. “Told ya,” said one to the other. They conferred behind the rear hatch.
So it's an Edsel. So what?”
Well, they're pretty rare. Collector's items, like.”
Yeah, and where's the collectors now?”
Well... after all this is over, things'll go up again. Old cars could be even more valuable.”
Yeah, and who says this is ever gonna be ov... Is that a body in the back?” They both glanced in the window, and stepped back. “You know how this works. We don't take the froo-froo junk that used to fetch big bucks. We take what we can use here and...”
At that moment, he suddenly took a swinging door across the face and went reeling back. His companion found himself with the cavernous bore of the shotgun inches from his face and the point of a bayonet pressed to his throat. “Beep beep, mothafocka,” said Carlos.