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.”