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.

Re-Deanimator Part 11: Once Bitten... by David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Previously published at
Davey the Goliath was parked next to the Thing, and the strange trailer widely known as Eric the Half a Bug. The Thing was Carlos's personal vehicle, and Eric was his own creation, a travel trailer in the style of a teardrop where he usually slept. The scream in the morning air had scarcely died down before the iconic Beetle hood shot open. Carlos sat up with his 20-gauge at ready, then scrambled out, clad in gym shorts and a white undershirt. He reached up to close the hatch while he surveyed the camp, and then looked back inside as if he had forgotten something.
You, Out,” he said succinctly.
The lilting voice of Lady Elayne answered, “I didn't ask to stay...” Carlos slammed the hood and stalked away, while the willowy woman made a gracefully discrete exit through a cut-down and reversed cab door on the far side of the bow.
Carlos came inside the van and rebandaged Meg's wound while Laramie recounted what Meg had told him of what happened. The one thing he mentioned observing himself was that he woke at the sound of her heavy breathing, and in the process saw her eyes open before she screamed. As they withdrew back out the door, they both mentioned “hagging” and “old hag” in their mutterings, which seemed to be jargon that needed no further explanation between them. Carlos nodded, and gave his student a stern, sad gaze. Meg's hands were trembling, but she felt more embarrassed than fearfully. The fact that so few people had gathered was, in many ways, making it all the more embarrassing. “Please, I had a bad dream, and I woke up thinking it was real,” Meg said, not believing it. “Okay? I know that, and I'm sorry I woke you.”
Lady Elayne strode nonchalantly through the midst of the bystanders. “We get a few screamers most every morning,” she said. She shrugged, and discretely pointed a finger at Carlos in the process. “Let's get you over to my place...” She led Meg, and Carlos and Laramie followed, and Indian Joe shuffled after them. They headed toward the strangest of the automotive apparitions in the fleet, a Beetle that had been massively modified into a miniature motorhome.
They entered the contraption which Carlos referred to as “the Bughaus” through an arched doorway in the side. A barrel-like vaulted roof, unusually convincing faux-wood paneling and at least one very real stained-glass window harkened to the old Gypsy wagons, and an assortment of occult sigils and paraphernalia inside and out was more Old World than New Age. There was a very cozy dinette in the rear, a postage-stamp kitchen where the shotgun seat had been, and a deployed fold-out bunk over the cab that was assuredly big enough for two. Meg tried not to jump to conclusions when she caught a glimpse of John Crapper hustling away.
Sit down beside me, sweetheart,” Elayne said, patting the seat beside her. She was clearly addressing Laramie as he came through the curtain of beads just inside the archway. Meg was already seated across from her, looking a little apprehensively at a skull next to the stereotypical crystal ball on the table. The student took the offered seat and stretched his legs across the dinette. Meg could have sworn the temperature rose as Carlos entered and seated himself in the swiveling driver's seat. Joe stopped in the doorway, turned around and sat on the steps, where he began to rock and hum.
The redhead intently studied the crystal and the skull, one after the other. After a minute or so, she turned it toward Meg, and worked the jaw like a puppet as she said in a comical voice, “Hi Meg. Howdy, Dr. W.” She held the skull almost to Laramie's ear. “Hello handsome.” She pointed the skull almost at Laramie's ear. Then she casually stuck the clearly fake skull on a shelf overhead.
Meg found the courage to ask, “What the hell are you about?”
Elayne stretched out her lithe arms, and after a moment, Meg complied with her obvious wish and took the other woman's hands. “To start with, sweetheart, there ain't no Hell,” Elayne said with a jarring drawl. “Least not like anything they told you in Sunday school. There's a God in heaven above, an' maybe there's a Devil below, but if there's anything bad on the other side, honey, it's just more shite we do to ourselves.”
Elayne reached out and took her hands. The trembling that had not quite subsided grew strong indeed, but Elayne held tighter, pulling Meg's arms straight and leaning forward as if inspecting the wound beneath the bandage. “You are hurt, quite badly,” she said. “But it's not this wound that will kill you.” There was no question that the potential double meaning was intended.
Carlos swiveled and propped his feet up on the table. “Her legal name's Maureen O'Hallaghan, and she was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin,” he said with a grin. “Raised there, too, when she wasn't bouncin' 'round the Pacific. Her old man was a naval officer, and her ma was a nurse.”
So what are you saying?” Meg asked.
She's telling you the good news,” Carlos said. “From what we've seen, two out of three, three outta four people in your position would be showing symptoms that will kill them in a week: Limited healing in the wound, if any; infections that flare back up, if they got better at all, signs of similar problems in other injuries. By comparison,your responses so far put you in the top ten percent.”
What about what I saw?” Meg asked. “Does it mean something?
Well, that i'n't bad news, either,” Carlos said. “It wasn't real, but it wasn't exactly a dream either. We've seen it before, and we call it a haggin'. There's old legends, see, about witches that pin people in their beds and tries to smother 'em. Lore about vampire attacks is very similar. It's a real phenomenon that the shrinks and paranormal investigators have studied for years. That's what put us onto it, 'cause George studies up on that weird stuff. What really happens is, sometimes, literally, parts of a person's brain can be awake while others are asleep. You could have your eyes open, but not be able to move because your brain's still getting' in gear. An' things that start out as dreams in the parts that are on snooze mode could appear as if they were right there in your bedroom. It's happened all over the world, all through history. It may happen more often in times of war, plague and the like...”
It happen to my people.” Joe spoke almost robotically, still staring out the door. “White men make us go on reservation with other tribes, tribes that drive us from our land before white men come. They send us away from them, to live in dead men's houses and sleep in dead men's blankets. They have many dead. Then our men see dead men, and die, and after they are seen by other men, and speak to them, and they die. This, my grandfather tell me. His one of only three families that live. They remember the old ways, speak the words to tell the dead men to go to place of the dead. They remember the taboo...” He looked over his shoulder and all but hissed, “Do no talk to dead.”
So what,” Meg said, “I'm going to die because I saw something?”
What did you see?” Elayne said. “Tell me exactly.” Only then did Meg describe fleeing her Greg, in the process telling more than a little about what he had put her through before that ordeal.
...And then you saw him, because he is still with you in your mind,” Elayne said. “He is a wound upon your soul, and if it does not heal, neither will this wound on your body.”
Meg looked to Carlos. “Aye, it's true enough,” Carlos said. “Don't get me wrong, any bite can be nasty business, and with them, anybody who doesn't get penicillin, lots of it and bloody quick is a goner regardless. But there were too many people who died even after treatment to be just the bugs. Quite simply, the immune system weakens or quits entirely. It affects coagulation, too, you know, the way stuff in the blood patches leaks. Nothing could ever be identified as an agent, and finally they concluded that the only explanation was some kind of psychological effect.
Mostly, it checked out with what people already knew. Placebo cures, psychosomatic illnesses, bloody voodoo curses, all tell the same story. If you tell people they're going to live or die, there's always going to be a statistically significant group who will make it happen. And if the old witchdoctors' results are anything to go by, it's quite a bit easier to take someone's life than save it.”
So what you're saying is,” Meg said, “I'm going to die, and it's all in my head.”
No,” Elayne said. “That is the wisdom of the world talking. Those who said that the mind has powers over the body admitted one truth, but denied another, that there are powers greater than both. You know better. They are the powers that do harm, made visible in the flesh. Even if you escape them, you cannot overcome them, without the aid of the powers that do men good.”
Meg glanced to Carlos. “Well, I'll tell you this much,” he said. “They aren't all in your head, and they will be coming for you every chance they get. If you can't hold it together up here, they're gonna succeed.”
After a long silence, Meg said, “How long do I have? Really.”
Far as we know, the record's ten weeks,” Carlos said. “Least that's what you get if you go by what he told us. He was with us for six, him and his family. We put 'em in a Winnebago, back when we had two. Then one night, he up and stabbed his mother-in-law in the shower, strangled his wife in bed, and hanged himself while carbon monoxide was smothering the kids in their sleep. When I found 'em, he was the only one still movin'.”
Sounds like you would be better off just leaving me,” Meg said.
No way in 'ell,” Carlos said. “We're giving you our best, which is why we're talking to you up front. And I'll admit, we aren't just doing it for you. We're doing it because we're tired of losing people, and we wanna know if we ever really had a chance. But if you aren't on board with that, if you aren't gonna do your very best and trust us for the rest, then I'm telling you to go get in that Audi and drive as fast as you can in any direction we aren't goin'.”
Meg met his stern gaze, while Elayne continued to clasp her hand gently. “All right,” she said. “I'll stay.”
Soon, she left with Laramie to get some breakfast. As Carlos got up to depart, Elayne said with a smile, “You didn't quite tell her everything. Did you?”
He shrugged. “If we made an announcement every time one of those things wandered in and out of camp, nobody'd have a good night's sleep again.”

Re-Deanimator Part 10: Hedley Kow and the Krappers by David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Previously published at
As sundown approached, the encampment spread out on both sides of the road. Meg stayed close to Goliath, and so ended up with a front-row seat as the occupants of Farther set up stage. Five stage hands set up palettes as a stage and a modest but up-to-date sound system. Meg almost spit when their full banner was unfurled: HEDLEY KOW AND THE KRAPPERS.
Meg found herself between Carlos and a willowy woman with flowing blond hair streaked with red. The woman was practicing on an instrument that looked like a fiddle with a crank and a keyboard. “Hi,” she said. “I'm Lady Elayne, with a Y, and this is a hurdygurdy.”
Are you in the band?” Meg asked.
I wouldn't say that, but I suppose it comes out the same,” Elayne said. “I play with Hedley, sometimes, when I have the time. I'm a liberal arts professor at Carlos's college... well, I was.”
Carlos laughed. “Try the liberal arts department. A while back, they decided to get with the times and teach the tech boys the humanities. They only ever hired two professors, and t'other quit.”
So,” Meg said, “what's with the name
It's from an English legend,” Elayne answered. “Hedley Kow was one of the kelpies, a kind of fairy. Tales say that he could take any shape. He could be a handsome man, or a fine horse. He could even turn into a great monster of the lochs.”
Meg looked askance, but Carlos nodded. “George is into that sort of thing- they call it cryptozoology,” he said. “Among those as take Nessie and such seriously at all, the shape-shiftin' angle is a serious 'ypothesis.”
Okay,” Meg said, “and what about... the rest of the name?”
Well... they spelled it wrong.”
Meg gave a perplexed frown. “What?”
Carlos pointed to two non-descript men setting up a synthesizer on stage. “Those are John and Harold. They're brothers, from England,” he said. He pointed to a blond woman who moved in position to test the keyboard. “That's Jane, John's wife. And John's great-to-the- greath grandfather was an inventor named Thomas... Crapper.”
Laramie came and served them dinner paper plates, and stuck around while Elayne flirted with him shamelessly between mouthfuls. Meg inspected the meal, which consisted of a boiled egg, baked beans and something that had been deep-fried beyond recognition. “What is this?” Meg asked, poking the mysterious meat.
Batter,” said Carlos. Meg ventured a bite, and it turned out to be spam. “We got ourselves a fryer, way back. The way it works, most of the work an' energy just goes into firin' it up, so once it's goin', you might as well do whatever you can. Sometimes things can get a bit outta hand.”
Would that be the fried ice cream sandwich or the fried armadillo?” Elayne queried with her mouth full.
Carlos jabbed the air with his fork. “Those were gourmet masterpieces!” he expostulated. “Now the fried catfish, that was too far.”
How is frying a catfish going too far?” Meg asked.
If the catfish is still moving,” Laramie said deadpan.
I think I've had enough,” Meg said.
Nay, you 'aven't,” Carlos said. “You eat what we bring you. Doctor's orders. Hey Lar, bring Grinner over here.” Laramie went to the Horsehauler and brought back a large cage. Inside was something that looked like a rat the size of a cat. Carlos dropped a few chunks of spam through the chickenwire of the cage, and the creature gobbled them. When Carlos waited to drop the final morsel, it hissed and bared a mouthful of many tiny pointed teeth.
Is that a possum?” Meg asked.
Opossum, strictly speaking,” Carlos said. “Didelphis virginiana. They range from the east coast all the way to Texas. We call 'em grinners, 'cause when one of 'em gets hit by a car, and sits in the sun a while, the muscles in their lips stretch back, and it looks like a big, happy grin...” Meg almost choked. “Aye, but this bloke, when I found I found 'im in the road, I picked 'im up, an' he says howdy.”
Well, I think he's cute, and I'm glad you made him the class mascot,” Elayne said.
Mascot?” Carlos said, with a grin as predatory as the possum's. “I'm saving him for a special occasion. I bet he'll fry up real good.” The possum hissed.
Elayne finished her meal and made a graceful departure. “When I first ran into her, she was a navy brat, way back when,” Carlos muttered. “She and Hedley had an act together before he joined up with the brothers. I think they had a thing, too.” The tone of his voice, and the way his muscles had rippled with tension while Elayne talked with Laramie, made Meg suspect that he had a “thing” of his own.
Then the man who could only be Hedley took the stage, playing a simple squeeze box with no particular proficiency. He looked to be in his early forties, with long dark hair that was starting to recede. He wore a plaid shirt and knee-length khaki shorts with an impressive selection of noise makers in various pockets. He pumped harder and played faster as he took the stage, and the band went wild, as if absolutely determined to drown him out. Elayne played and ululated simultaneously, Jane bobbed and weaved in place as she pummeled the keys, Dick used a foot pedal to pound the bass drum while he frenetically worked over the rest of his instruments, and John started to jump up and down like a child in a tantrum. Hedley more than matched them, flailing his arms at the bellows like Icarus trying to fly. Finally, an English terrier waddled out and started to bark, and all fell suddenly silent.
Meg glanced sidelong at Carlos. “Well, look at it this way,” he said, “if any of them are around, you can bet you're going to know it.” Sure enough, Daniel fired several bursts, and then all was quiet. The band continued to go through their motions in the silence, as if the music were still going in their minds. Then Hedley swapped the squeezebox for a banjo slung over his shoulder, and strummed along with lyrics he delivered with the sing-song quality of a nursery rhyme.
Well one day old Lucifer called Heaven, said, `There ain't no more room in hell,' An' St. Pete says, `We need a curve to get more bodies in here.' So the dead returned to Earth, and it sure was a sight, the night they all woke up.” He blew a slide whistle.
So the unknown soldiers came out of the tomb sayin' `Peace out, man!' Lincoln got up and said `Segregation forever!' While Jefferson sat down and said `Brown sugar's better!!' The night they all woke up.
Lenin climbed out of the box and said, `Capitalism rocks!' Gandhi said `No more Mister Passive Resistance!' And John called Ringo an' said `Tell Paul Wings sucks!' The night they all woke up!
Then all the stiffs in the churchyard came in and said to the priest, `You told us when we die we'd live up in the sky in the sweet by and by. Instead we wake up in the same old muck, so Padre whatthe-!A riff from the band and a blast of the squeeze box covered the obviously intended profanity. The night they all woke up.” The band went through one last extended riff that cut off abruptly at the dog's bark.
The song was obviously their signature number. Meg clapped, and was moderately disturbed to see Janie doing the same. After that, they went into mostly covers, mostly mild sixties numbers that by their very benignity took on a disturbing quality. The weirdest was a muzak-like instrumental from the band that Carlos identified as “the Gonk”. “Theme from a British kids' movie,” he said. “Bloody crazy Brits...” A close second was John joining Jane at the keyboard for “Heart and Soul”. He proved to have a eerily soft pitch, while his wife sang with a jarringly deep contralto. That was followed by a spaced-out version of “Georgie Girl” with the redhead singing the vocals. The performance wrapped up with everyone singing along with “Good Morning, Starshine,” at which point Dianna carried Janie off to Moby Ralph.
As the stage came down, Carlos called to John: “Hey, I gotta talk to Hedley.”
While Carlos waited, Meg talked briefly to Jane: “So, Carlos told me about the name...”
What about it?” she said. “A name's a name.”
Yeah, but... Well, did you take his name?”
Why wouldn't I?” Meg tried not to look perplexed. “What, are the hip girls against a woman taking her husband's name now?”
No, of course not, but... you shouldn't have to.”
I didn't.” Meg stopped trying to hide her bafflement. “Look, I thought about it, and I figured, most important inventions in human history: fire, the wheel, the flush toilet. Nobody knows who made the first two, and I didn't want to be the reason people forget who made the other one. So I took his name, and when we have a son, the world will have another John Crapper.” By then, Jane was smiling herself, and Meg finally allowed herself to laugh.
Hedley arrived with a set of bongos under one arm and a didgeridoo over the other shoulder. John took his wife's hand, and they hustled for the bus. “Put those down,” Carlos said sternly. Hedley complied. “We've got some new vehicles, and we need to do some recon. First light tomorrow, if not before, I'm leading a scouting party west, and I'm taking some of our new acquisitions with us to make it a shakedown. I want your bus with them as backup.” Hedley shrugged in resignation. Carlos looked to Meg. “I want you to go with them, show us where you been.”
I can do that,” she said hesitantly, “but I don't know if I can be much help. There really isn't much to see. Just... a lot of them.” She saw that her hands were trembling.
Then show us where you saw them,” Carlos said. “Tell us how many. You might see things that jog or memory, even notice things you didn't the first time. You can help us, and it's going to help you too.”
Meg squeezed her hand into a fist, and the trembling stopped. “I'll do it,” she said. “We can take my Audi.”
We have enough vehicles already, and I want you in the old Jeep with Joe,” Carlos said. “But it's appreciated. Now, I need you to prepare... by getting in that van now and getting a good night's sleep.” Meg found she was more than happy to comply, and found she was especially comfortable in the upper bunk.
Not long after, Carlos looked in, with Laramie looking over his shoulder. “You haven't told her,” his student said casually.
What good would it do if we did?” Carlos responded rhetorically. “If there's anything we know, it's that whatever happens is mostly in the head. Telling them it could happen is the surest way to make it happen.”
The fiberglass boat had a plexiglass window on the bottom, with one edge just over the bunk. Meg slept, not so much peacefully as simply without conscious thought. Thus, when she awoke, she had no notion of the passage of time, except that it was darker than when she went to bed.
She was on her side, and tried to shift, which was when she discovered she could not move. She could not even raise her head. She found she could move her eyes, though. She looked down, and saw Laramie stretched out on the couch. Then she looked up, at the skylight, and saw a face peering down. She saw only a face, as clearly as if it was illuminated by full moonlight.
It was Greg.