||City of IF
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Joined: 28 Jun 2008
Location: Virtually everywhere
|Posted: Sat Jun 28, 2008 9:51 pm Post subject: Conversation With a Dead Friend- Ch.3
|In order to make the story more accessible to new readers, I have moved the comments to a new topic, entitled "Comments". (I went way out of the box on that one.) Please leave your invaluable advise, encouragement, and criticism here. Polling will still take place in this topic.
Be advised that the following text contains profanity and adult situations.
I awoke to someone gently shaking my shoulder.
“Jason... wake up, man... wake up.” The voice sounded gauzy but familiar. I risked opening one eye. “Wake up, dude. I need your help.” A dark form at the foot of my bed.
I approached consciousness like an ex-lover with a grudge and gave due consideration to the intruder. “It's early,” I growled. “What time is it? It's too early.” That seemed ample justification. I shuttered my open eye and rolled over. The blanket was well snug and fastened back over my head when the swiftly fading logic centers in my brain finally made the connection. Someone was in my room.
I mulled the salient points of the situation. 1) I was alone in the apartment when I went to bed. 2) No one else had access to the apartment. 3) I always lock the door when I return home from work. 4) I have only one window, leading to a fourth-floor balcony. 5) Despite all the logic I could muster at that hour, there was no denying the reality of the person sitting on my bed.
Obviously, the problem required direct action. “Go away,” I said, from under the covers. That would show 'em.
“Jason, I really need you to wake up.” The light shaking recommenced. “Come on, man. I'm not leaving until you talk to me.”
There was something odd about the voice, but I recognized it. “Piss off, Dave,” I gurgled. Dave and I had worked together as security guards for most of our freshman and sophmore college years. We had stayed in touch here and there, but were never what you would call close. Certainly not close enough to wake me in the wee hours. “Call me tomorrow,” I told him. I didn't bother to ask how he had gotten into my apartment. It could all be dealt with in the morning, preferably after coffee.
He arose and gave a wheezy sigh. “I'll just crash in the living room, then,” he said. “We can talk in the morning.” I grunted a noncomittal reply and slipped back towards sleep, mumbling angrily.
Damned Dave. What the hell was he thinking, waking me up? I hadn't talked to the guy in at least six or seven months. We hadn't really even hung out since he made varsity a couple of years ago. He was too busy with football, and I was too busy with not liking football. Probably wouldn't have even recognized him if he hadn't been all over the news last week. Local Student Dies in Football Accident. He had speared a wide receiver in the chest and twisted his neck on the way down. Died on the field. Twenty-four years old. Sad, really. They had a nice memorial for him day before yesterday.
“Click,” went my brain.
I decided to go ahead and open both eyes this time. The room was dark and empty, but I heard noises emanating from the living room. Late-night television, by the sound of it. I stood, found my balance, and shuffled to the front of the apartment in my bare feet.
Dave was sitting on the couch, watching Larry King. “Hey! You're up,” he said. He reached over and flipped on a table lamp. I squinted against the light, noting that it didn't help Dave's appearance much. His face was slack and seemed shrunken, his skin gray and ashy. He was wrapped in a filthy sheet. I tried to ignore the damage it was doing to my couch. His head rested on his right shoulder at an extreme angle, as if he were trying to remember something from a long time ago. “Sorry for waking you,” he said. “Is the TV too loud?” It was Dave's voice, but strangled and keening. The angle of his neck must have put his trachea in a bind.
“No, it's fine. I was getting up anyway.” It's amazing how etiquette manages to function even when the brain that supplies it doesn't. Realizing that I was still standing around in my boxers, I took a seat on the couch and took in the whole picture. Immediately, I wished I hadn't. Dave Pitkin was a pleasant-looking young man, "was" been the operative word. His skin was powdery and cracked at the joints, where raw burgundy flesh showed through. His hair looked brittle and filthy, and it stood out at obscene angles. As I moved, he flopped his head over to his left shoulder, to keep me in his vision. The sound it made was... unpleasant. Like grinding the transmission on a bowl of gumbo.
Politeness took over again. “So... how've you been?” Dave rolled his glassy eyes and wiggled his head around as way of demonstration, producing that gritty, squelching sound in the progress. I tried again. “Um... I thought you were supposed to be dead?”
“Supposed to be,” he affirmed. “Got buried and everything.”
“So, why are you in my living room?”
“Because you kicked me out of the bedroom.”
I wasn't amused. Humor from beyond the grave is less exciting than you would think. “Why aren't you still in the grave, smartass?”
Dave's face drew up in contemplation. The effect on his already drawn features was disconcerting. “I don't really know,” he said. “I remember lining up to make the hit. After that... nothing. I woke up two days ago in a box.”
“What have you been doing for the past two days?” I asked.
“It was a pretty tough box," he replied.
'Awkward' doesn't begin to describe the silence that followed. It was paraparetic. It was a Parkinsonian bull in a shop for osteoporitic china. The silence had a major cerebellar infarct. I felt bad about breaking it.
“Okay... so you broke your neck, you were declared dead by a physician, and you were buried with due respect. A day or so later, you woke up, found that you had been buried alive, and decided to pop on over and visit your old buddy Jason. Am I right so far?”
“All but the 'buried alive' part.” He removed the sheet to display the Y-shaped incision that ran the length of his torso. “Pretty nasty looking, right? Want to know why it's not bleeding?”
“I'd really rather not.”
He ignored me. “It's 'cause there's no blood in there. I'm dry as a proverbial preacher on Sunday. It's really weird. Feels like really firm Jell-o.” He paused to wrap the sheet back around himself. “So... what do you make of it?”
I can't really explain why I didn't just start screaming right then and there. I think my sleep-addled brain afforded some protection from the shock of the whole thing. I just wasn't smart enough to be scared at the time. I decided keep that up. “Two things spring to mind: A) You shouldn't use the term 'proverbial' unless you're actually referencing a proverb. -- and B) This whole conversation is probably a dream. I think you should pinch me.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“To make sure that I'm not dreaming.”
“I don't really see how that would help.”
I sighed loudly. “Don't you ever read? You can't feel pain in a dream, so if you pinch me and I don't feel pain, we know this is a dream.”
“What if it's my dream?” David responded.
“Well... I'll pinch you too, then.”
“No good,” he said. “I can't feel a damned thing. Seriously. I noticed it while I was trying to beat my way out of that coffin. It took forever, but there was no pain at all.”
“Maybe you've just been dreaming this whole time.”
“Can't be. Dead people don't dream.”
I felt like I was gaining ground. “Aha! But maybe you just dreamed that you died.”
“But you said you heard I was dead.”
“True, but that's what I would say if I were just in your dream. Perhaps in real life, I never heard about you dying because it never really happened.”
“Fine, then. So you're just a figment of my imagination?”
I thought about it. “No, I don't think so. If I were, I wouldn't want a cigarette so badly right now.” I reached for my pack on the coffee table. “Do you mind?”
“Of course not. It's your place.”
“Just thought I'd ask,” I said. “Respect for the dead and all that.”
Dave shifted a little on the couch. “So, if you're not part of a dream, then I really am dead... right?”
“I suppose so-- or at least we can assume that you're dead until we have evidence to the contrary.” I thought about that last statement. “Um... you're not going to eat my brain or anything are you?”
“Nah. I'm not even hungry. Like I told you, I don't really feel anything right now.”
“Okay. I'll have to take your word on that one I suppose. You never answered my original question, though.”
“What? 'What time is it?' It's about a quarter to four.”
I grimaced. “You know what I mean, smart guy. Why did you come here?”
“You said it yourself,” he responded. “I should be dead. As far as I can tell, I am dead. I just happen to be walking around and thinking and talking and whatnot. I've always been told that dead people don't do those thing, so I'd really like to know what the hell is wrong with me.”
“So you come to me? Shouldn't you go to a doctor or a priest or something?”
David chuckled dryly. It sounded like a flooded engine trying to start. "Last time I checked, Jason, doctors specialize in preventing death, not curing it. As for preachers... well... I'd imagine I'd have a hard time trying to find one who'd want to talk to me. Most of them seem to have their own ideas about what happens to you after you die, and none of the one's I've heard ever mentioned digging around in the garbage looking for something to cover yourself up with. Did you know that they cut the backs off of them nice suits that they bury people in?"
"I've heard that, yes," I said distractedly. "I makes it easier to dress the corpse... I mean... the deceased. None of that tells me why you came to me, though. There has to be someone better qualified to deal with this."
"There ain't nobody qualified to deal with this, buddy. That's why I'm here." He paused for a moment. "Let's be honest. I'm no brainiac. I've never been good at school, and I fall asleep reading books. You're the smartest guy I ever met, Jason. When we worked nights together, you was always talking about science and politics and everything, and you always explained things in a way that I could understand them. I learned more in a couple of years working with you than I ever did in a classroom. So... If there's anybody in the world that can help me now, I think it's you. I know we was never best friends or anything, but I could really use a hand right now." He fell silent with sigh, an autonomic gesture, certainly. I doubted that he had a need to breath.
So now what? Should Jason help his friend? If so, how? What would you do in this situation?[url][/url]
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Joined: 28 Jun 2008
Location: Virtually everywhere
|Posted: Sun Jul 20, 2008 9:28 pm Post subject:
rose from the dead – 29 million hits. Hrm…
“risen from the dead” – 304,000 hits…Getting better…
“risen from the dead” –jesus –christ - 114,000 hits… What else…
“risen from the dead” –jesus –christ –lazarus – 161,000 hits… Wait… How is that even possible?
"risen from the dead" -religion -jesus -christ -church – 84,500 hits… Much better.
I sat back and rubbed my eyes. The coffee hadn’t kicked in yet. I glanced over at Dave, who was still watching television from the couch. This had to be a dream. Right?
I tried to wake up. The world didn’t budge. I tried harder, not really sure what I was even straining against. If the universe noticed my effort, it gave no sign. I closed my eyes and tried to awaken myself with all of my mental might. I imagined that all I could see and hear was an illusion, a figment of my sleeping mind, a modern apparition of Descarte's demon. I squeezed my eyes shut tighter, allowing in no trickster light. The sounds of the television and soft humming of my monitor I took to be a façade, synthetic things generated by random electrical pulses deep in my brain. Everything my mind told me was a lie, and as long as I believed the lie, I was trapped. If I could see through it, I could get through it. I could make it to the other side of my eyelids and wake up, wake up, WAKE UP!
“You OK, buddy?”
Dave watched me from the couch. “You just looked… well… there’s no nice way to put it. For a minute there, you looked like you were trying to shit a twelve-pound corncob.”
I stared blankly for a moment. “Oh,” I said. “Sorry.” So much for mind over matter. Reality didn’t care how much I wanted it to change. It just kept being solidly, steadily, enormously real. I turned back to my keyboard.
"risen from the dead" -religion -jesus -christ –church +reality – 791 hits… all movie related. I needed a better tactic than sifting through the detritus of pop culture with a search engine. I need advice from an expert, someone who actually knows about this kind of stuff. But how? Take out a classified ad?
Help Wanted. Experienced Witch Doctor for short-term project. Must have own transportation and mojo stick. Salary Negotiable. Wait a second…
Four hours and several emails later, I had a lead. “Hey, Dave?”
Dave squelched his head in my direction. “Yeah?”
“Do you believe in God?”
“Well, next time you talk to him, thank him for Facebook. I looked up this girl I met in a World Religions class our sophomore year. We did an extra credit project on religions of the West Indies. I just did it for the points, but she was really into it. From the looks of her page, she stuck with it.” I got up from my desk chair. “My friend, we have an appointment with a bona fide priestess of Santeria. She’ll be over Saturday night.”
Dave didn’t seem impressed. “What’s Santeria?” he asked.
“It’s kind of like Cuban voodoo, I think. Honestly, she did most of the work on the project. The important thing is she thinks she can help us.”
“That’s awesome, Jason!”
“Well, don’t get your hopes up yet. Just because this girl seems to know what she’s talking about doesn’t mean she actually does. Anyway, I didn’t give her all the details of your… condition.”
“That’s smart thinking,” said Dave. “She’d probably just think you’re nuts. Hell, I think we’re nuts and I don’t have enough sense to stay dead.”
“I just told her that I’m concerned about a friend that died recently.” I read over my recent correspondence again. “By the way… do you have any idea where we can get a chicken?”
“From the supermarket, I guess,” Dave grunted.
“No, I mean a live chicken. She says we’re going to need one.”
Dave looked at me with real concern. “What’s she need a chicken for?” he asked, suspiciously.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “She just says she needs a chicken.”
”She’s not going to hurt it, is she?”
I sighed deeply. My patience was wearing out. “Look… let’s just do what she says for now, and we’ll play it by ear on Saturday, OK? I have to work in a few hours, and I need to get some more sleep. You should get some sleep, too.”
“Nah… I think I’ll just watch TV. I don’t feel tired or nothing.” Dave looked away. “Anyway, the last time I went to sleep… well, you know. I’m kind of scared to do that again.”
I thought I knew what “guilt” was before. Making a dead man fear for his life has a way of redefining words like that.
My alarm went off three hours later. I crept into the living room, hoping that it had been a dream after all. No such luck. Dave was still sitting on the couch, decaying quietly. Reality didn’t fail to disappoint.
“I’m off to work,” I said. “There’s food in the fridge if you get hungry.”
Dave didn’t even turn around. “I’m still not hungry,” he replied. “Just bored.”
“Well, you’ve already acquainted yourself with the TV. You can use my computer, too, if you like. As a matter of fact, you could help out by finding somewhere nearby where I can buy a live chicken… preferably a cheap one.”
“Why do you have to say it like that?”
“Like what?” I asked, puzzled.
“'A cheap one'… why shouldn’t we get a good one?”
I tapped my foot impatiently. “Look Dave, in case you can’t tell from the way I live…” I swept my arm dramatically, taking in the whole of my one-bedroom pad. “I’m not the world’s richest man. I don’t mind helping you out, but we are seriously short on monetary resources. I’ll take a disposable chicken if I can get one.”
“I knew it!” Dave shouted. The effect was somewhat like being yelled at by an emphysemic bagpipe. “You’re planning to kill that chicken, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”
I was dumbfounded. “Dave…” I fumbled to keep my voice level. “I don’t know why we need the chicken. I just know that Victoria told me to get one, and she knows a lot more about this stuff than I do. Anyway, it’s just a…”
Dave interrupted me. “Wait a second… What did you say her name was?”
“Victoria. Why? What does it matter?”
“What does she look like?” he asked.
“Well, it’s been a while. Last time I saw her, she was kind of skinny, spiky black hair, lots of white makeup and black clothes. Who cares? This is a voodoo ritual, not a blind date.”
Dave had stopped talking. He held his head in his hands (an awkward accomplishment, given the architecture of his neck) and groaned like an overfed walrus. He looked positively sick. I was immediately concerned, both for the welfare of my friend and because it was exactly the kind of groan that movie zombies let out right before they start cracking skulls like coconuts. I backed away slowly, glancing around for something hard and heavy.
“Dave? Are you alright?” I backed into the doorframe and slowly wrapped my hand around the nearest weapon.
Dave looked up at me. “No, I’m not alright! I’m dead, my only friend in the world wants me to kill a chicken, and the only person that can help me is Victoria Mayfield!” He looked down at my hands. “Why are you holding that umbrella like a sword?”
As embarrassing moments go, it was one step short of the time I learned that kabuki and bukkake are not even remotely the same thing. I tried to play it off. “Just testing it,” I said. I gave the umbrella a few hearty swings. “That’s a fine umbrella,” I said approvingly, trying to shift gears. “So what’s so bad about Victoria?”
It was odd watching Dave sigh. His chest rose and fell once, then no more. It was easy to forget that he wasn’t breathing until he took a breath.
He looked down at the ground. “There’s nothing wrong with Victoria,” he said. “Nothing at all. She’s perfect. I thought so the first time I saw her, and I still do.”
“Are you telling me you have a crush on this girl?” I asked.
“It’s not just a crush, Jason. Some people don’t believe in love at first sight, but I do. It’s how my Mama and Daddy met, and it’s how I’m gonna meet the woman of my dreams. Problem is, I already met her, and she don’t want nothing to do with me.”
I was puzzled. “Victoria and you have a history?”
“Not really. We had a class together freshman year. I sat right behind her. Ended up failing because I never paid attention. I’d just spend the whole class looking at her.”
“Why didn’t you ask her out?”
“Oh, I did, buddy. Six times… and six times I got shot down. She said she didn’t date jocks. I guess I’m so dumb it took me six tries to figure out that I’m too dumb for her. I ended up just not going back to class anymore.”
Yet again, I felt awful for being angry at Dave. It is far too easy to pity the dead. “Well, that was three years ago, Dave. She probably doesn’t even remember you.”
“But I remember her! I can’t do this, Jason! It’s just too embarrassing. I can’t let her see me like this!”
I glanced at my watch. I was already late for work. “Look, we can talk about this some more when I get home. For now, just try to find a reasonably priced chicken online, and we’ll figure out how to handle Victoria later. OK?”
Dave bobbed his dangling head up and down in dejected agreement. I have seen a lot of sad things in my life, but there is nothing sadder than a lovesick zombie.
So... now what? How should our heroes deal with Dave's predicament? Should he confess his love yet again? Should they try to disguise his appearance? Should they really kill a chicken? The choice is yours! Make it interesting!
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Joined: 28 Jun 2008
Location: Virtually everywhere
|Posted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 2:14 pm Post subject:
|The rest of the week passed mostly uneventfully. Dave and I had a brief tiff over the amount of skin he was leaving on my couch, but he agreed to vacuum, so I dropped the issue. Honestly, he really became a huge help around the place. Even a zombie can only watch so much television, after all, and Dave was never one to sit around much, at any rate. My place suddenly got a whole lot cleaner once I started keeping a dead guy in there. Dave’s industry wasn’t just confined to the domestic arts, either. He fixed the rattle in my washing machine and made a good start on organizing my collection of Star Wars memorabilia on top of finding us a used rooster at a good rate. He refused to put the thing in a cage, but he was good about cleaning up after it. Overall, it was a pleasant few days for both of is.
Everything changed once the weekend hit. Dave spent the entire morning on the couch watching Fox News and feeding popcorn to his new friend. I could tell he was nervous, but I decided not to bother him about it. What kind of advice can you give to a dead man? I left Dave on the couch and spent the day in a coffee shop, promising to be home well before Victoria’s appointment.
Three crossword puzzles, two muffins, and six cups of Sumatran later, I returned home. Dave was still on the couch. The rooster was asleep on the cushion next to him.
“How are you holding up, big guy?” I asked as I headed for the kitchenette.
Dave muted Bill O’Reilly and flopped his head in my direction. “Not bad,” he responded.
I nodded toward the TV. “Learning anything useful?”
“Not really. This guy says that terrorists are entering the US from Mexico and that everyone should be scared shitless about it.”
“Are you scared shitless?”
“Dude… I haven’t eaten or gone to the bathroom in almost a week now. Mexican terrorists are the last thing I’m scared of.”
I returned to the living area and plopped down in a chair. Dave had returned to watching The Factor, still silenced. I glanced over at him, and did a double-take.
“Is that my shirt?” I asked, as calmly as I could.
“Yeah. I hope you don’t mind. I just got tired of wearing that old sheet.”
I was dumbstruck. Dave had dressed himself in the finest clothes in my closet. I took a deep breath and counted to ten before speaking.
“Is that my silk shirt?”
“You’re God-damned right it is!” I yelled. “And those are my best pants! What the hell, man?”
“What’s the problem?”
“What’s the problem?” I shouted. “The problem is that those are my only nice clothes, and you’re getting… dead…stuff all over them.” I was fuming. “That shirt cost me sixty bucks!”
Dave squirmed. “I’m sorry, man. Look… I’ll pay you back, ok?”
“Pay me back? Just how do you plan on managing that? Sell your body to science?”
“Well I’m not meeting Victoria dressed in a bedsheet!” Dave burst out. We stared at each other for eons, Dave defiant in his embarrassment and me agog at the entire situation.
“Buc?” said the rooster, breaking the silence.
“Dammit!” Dave muttered. “You woke up Mister Cluckers.”
“…Woke who…” I trailed off. My brain was still lagging at least four steps behind this conversation. I rallied my mind to make another stab at it but never got the chance. A sharp knocking at the door dashed any hope I may have had at catching up with the situation.
“It’s her!” Dave squealed. He scooped up the rooster and made a b-line for the hall bathroom. I heard the lock click amid the persistent knocking.
“Just a minute,” I called, moving to the door. I sighed and shot a worried glance towards the bathroom as I opened it.
Victoria seemed much as I had remembered her, skinny, short, and pale. She had cropped her dark hair in a boyish cut. The primary difference seemed to be her wardrobe. I remembered her in black T-shirts and dark, torn jeans. Now, she wore a knee-length, flowing dress that could have come straight out of a Clorox commercial. Her sandals were bright white as well, as was the band in her hair and the canvas tote she wore over her shoulder. It was as if her sense of fashion had become so dark that it had come out the other side. It actually made her wan complexion look almost colorful.
Once again, my brain took over and engaged a politeness protocol. “Hi, Victoria,” my mouth said as I blinked away the negative image. “Thanks for coming. Let me get your bag.”
“No, thanks. I’ve got it.” she replied, stepping inside. “It’s good to see you. What have you been up to?” She moved towards the couch and made to set the tote down.
“Oh… you, know. Just work and…”
I jumped and rushed beside her. “What? What is it?” Her bewildered eyes stared at my from above her hand, clasped over her mouth and nose in a tight mask.
“A sur wa mumma nah eh huh!”
“What? What is that? Are you casting a spell or something?”
She turned her back to the couch and dropped her hand from her mouth. “No, dummy,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “I said ‘It smells like something died in here’. Don’t you ever clean?”
The place was cleaner than it had ever been, but it still smelled like refried shit. Both of those facts were thanks to Dave, of course. I had gotten so used to it that I forgot that Victoria might notice a room full of deathstench.
“Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” I said, trying to cover my embarrassment. “Let’s go to the kitchen, and I’ll make some coffee.”
“I don’t drink coffee,” she said. “Do you have any sassafras?”
I could tell this was going to go well.
Despite my expectations, it did go well. Victoria settled for soda and listened attentively as I explained the situation.
“So…” she said, pausing to take a sip. “So what you’re telling me is… that football player who died last week… came back from the dead… and has been living, ahem… pardon me, unliving here with you since Monday night. Does that about cover it?”
“…and you expect me to believe this?”
“…and just why, precisely, should I believe it?”
“Because he’s hiding in my bathroom right now.”
I could tell she wasn’t prepared for that response, but she covered it well. “Show me,” she said, setting her down her soda.
I motioned her towards the bathroom and dropped my voice to a whisper. “Look, he’s pretty embarrassed about the whole situation, and he’s really shy, so… just go easy on him, ok?”
“Easy. Sure. Got it.” She pounded on the bathroom door. “Any dead people in there?” She rattled the doorknob and, finding it locked, shouted again. “Hello? Dead people? You in there?... ‘Cause I’m getting really tired of playing games in this smelly apartment.” She paused and feigned listening intently before turning towards me. “Guess he’s gone,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm. She turned to leave.
“No! Wait!” I shouted, watching my only chance out of this mess headed for the nearest exit. “He really is in there.”
I yelled at the door. “DAVE!... IF YOU DON’T COME OUT OF THERE RIGHT NOW… I’M GOING TO KICK THIS DOOR DOWN!” I waited for a response. “DAVE… I MEAN IT!”
Still no sound from the other side of the door.
“ALRIGHT THEN! HERE I COME!” Having watched plenty episodes of COPS, I felt like I was amply trained for this task. I slammed the sole of my right foot into the door, just below the knob.
For those who have never tried to kick down a door before, a tip: don’t do it if your idea of exercise consists of walking to the kitchen to microwave a frozen pizza. The door didn’t give an inch, and I landed soundly on my ass. I looked up to find Victoria’s amused smirk radiating down on me. She had gone to the kitchen to retrieve her bag, but had returned to the hall to laugh at me.
She chuckled. “Jason, this is ridiculous. The joke’s over, and it wasn’t that funny to begin with. Stop this before you hurt yourself.”
“Buc?” said a voice from the door.
If there were an Olympic competition for simultaneous astonishment, Victoria and I could have taken home the gold. Apparently, I had underestimated myself. The door held fast, but I had bent the hinges enough to expose a gap at the bottom of the jamb. It was only a couple of inches, but it was wide enough for the beak of an inquisitive rooster.
“Bucak?” the beak inquired.
Victoria looked down at me with revulsion. “Jason… you are one weird guy.”
I rubbed my bruised posterior and gave an exasperated gasp. “Hey, you’re the one who said to get a chicken.” An idea struck. “What were you planning to do with it anyway?”
Victoria rolled her eyes. “I was planning to contact Oya.”
“She’s a powerful Orisha. One of her many jobs is guarding cemetery gates. You did say that you were worried about a dead friend.”
I sat up against the wall. “I still am,” I said. “So an Orisha is like a god?”
“More like a powerful spirit.”
“So these Orishas… They have a thing for poultry?”
Victoria rolled her eyes again. “You can’t expect a greater Orisha to show up just because you ask nicely. They require offerings.”
“You mean sacrifices.”
“Basically, yes. I also brought rain water and an eggplant.” She noticed my confused expression. “Those are Oya’s favorite foods.”
“…and the rooster?”
“Rooster blood is a traditional offering.”
Uncomfortable shuffling noises emanated from behind the crooked door. I was on the right track. “Well, I’m sorry to waste your time, Victoria.” I pointed towards the exposed beak. “Do you want to take this rooster with you? I don’t have any use for him here, and I’m sure he’d make a great sacrifice for somebody.”
A strangled cry issued from the bathroom. Victoria’s eyes widened with shock. “What was that?” she asked.
“That,” I said, “is the sound of someone who’s about to be short one chicken. What do you think, Victoria? What say we do a practice sacrifice, just so you can show me how it’s done.”
The door burst open as Dave scooped up his friend and hugged it to his mangled neck.
“DON’T YOU HURT MR. CLUCKERS!”
After the initial confusion died down, we settled into a more sophisticated, long-term confusion.
So now what? The next step is really up to Victoria. How should she progress? Should she go ahead and try to contact her Orisha, seek help from other specialists, or wait to research a more direct solution? Does she view Dave with revulsion, compassion, or dispassionate professionalism? Speaking of professionalism, should she charge for her services? Maybe she should just get out while she still can.
What do you think?
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Joined: 28 Jun 2008
Location: Virtually everywhere
|Posted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 8:14 pm Post subject:
|I feel like I should apologize again for how long it took me to get this update together. I normally try to update at least once a week, but Hurricane Gustav left me without electricity for longer than that. Since the power's come back on, I've been busy just trying to get back to a normal routine. Unfortunately, I managed to neglect writing in the meantime. I'm sorry. I promise it won't happen again, barring another major natural disaster.
Thanks to everyone for your patience, and especially to those who offered suggestions. Believe me when I say that I'm taking your advice to heart.
The update is a little long, this time. Hopefully, that halfway makes up for its tardiness. I hope you enjoy.
After the initial confusion died down, we settled into a more sophisticated, long-term confusion. Victoria, bless her, handled it remarkably well. Once we had firmly established that Dave was unlikely to drink her blood or go on a brain-eating binge, her professional curiosity kicked in. She spent the next half-hour poking and peering and testing and questioning. Dave, for his part, demonstrated his harmlessness by generally behaving like a little girl. He sat silently, compulsively stroking Mr. Cluckers as Victoria administered her exam. In short order, my living room carpet had a fine downy coat. I ignored it and made coffee. I suppose that wasn’t actually helpful, but it seemed like a situation like that warranted a fresh pot, and it’s one thing I’m good at.
I returned to the living room with a steaming cup. “Well?” I inquired. “What do you think?”
Victoria shook her head slowly. “I don’t know what to think,” she said. “He’s definitely dead.”
“Thanks for the clue, CSI. What should we do about it?”
She rolled her eyes. “I guess that’s up to him,” she said looking over at Dave.
Dave’s methodical petting froze in midstroke. He kept his eyes down. “What do you mean?” he asked.
Victoria plopped down onto the couch next to him. “Well, I can still contact Oya, but I can’t just ask her to make it all better and leave it at that. We have to work towards a goal.”
“Buc?” said Mr. Cluckers, looking up at Dave. I would never have thought that an animal without lips could pout, but there it was. Dave resumed petting the rooster, which nestled its head under its wing contentedly.
“Are you asking me…” Dave said between strokes. “…what are you asking me, here? Are you saying that I need to decide whether or not I want to be dead again?”
“Basically,” replied Victoria. She seemed unfazed.
Dave swallowed hard, his throat making a dry clicking noise. It almost turned me off my coffee. “I don’t think that’s the kind of decision you have to make on the spot, Dave,” I said. They both looked at me. I continued my train of thought. “It seems like we could just contact your ocarina…”
“Orisha,” Victoria corrected.
“That, too. Anyway, couldn’t we just contact her and ask for advice or general guidance? We don’t even know why he came back. Let’s just try to figure out what’s going on now and save the heavy decisions for when we’re better informed.”
Dave breathed a windy sigh. “Hey, that’s a great idea!” he said, his relief evident. “We could just ask for some advice. Right, Vickie?”
She hadn’t taken her eyes off of me. She seemed a little piqued, like I had somehow stolen her thunder. I met her gaze and shot her a lazy smile. She turned back towards Dave as she spoke. “First, don’t call me Vickie. Second, contacting an Orisha isn’t a matter of twenty questions. I have to actually ask her to possess my body and control my actions to gain her knowledge. I can’t promise how much information we’ll be able to get. And third…” She looked down at Mr. Cluckers. “… we don’t even have a proper sacrifice… unless you’re still planning on using that thing.” Dave shook his head vehemently, producing that sloppy concrete-mixer noise again. I made a mental note to talk to him about that.
Luckily, I had formulated a plan for overcoming just such an obstacle while I was in the kitchen. “Don’t worry about the sacrifice,” I said. “I have it all worked out.”
“I don’t think this is going to work out.”
Victoria looked at the circle she had cast with its pile of offerings in the center. Her face showed sheer contempt. “Who keeps that much fried chicken in their fridge, anyway?”
I considered the pile of greasy poultry at our feet. It was impressive “The deli up the street runs a special every Thursday,” I said. “An eight-piece dark for $2.99. I stock up.”
“It’s amazing you’re still alive,” she said.
“That makes two of us,” I replied. Zing! She didn’t seem to appreciate the humor.
Dave grumbled slightly from behind us. “Can we just get started?” he begged. “I’d like to get this over with.” We had agreed that it would be better if we kept Mr. Cluckers in the bathroom for the ceremony. Dave shuffled anxiously as he looked for something to do with his hands.
“You scared, big guy?” I asked.
“Not scared so much…” he said. “Just nervous. I was raised up Pentecostal. I ain’t used to this kind of thing.”
“There’s nothing to be nervous about,” said Victoria. She took his big gray hand in hers and led him near the circle. It reminded me of that scene from the original Frankenstein movie where the little girl leads the monster down to the lake to throw flowers. I half expected Dave to hoist Victoria over his head and pitch her into the pile of chicken. Instead, he followed meekly and thumped down where she sat him. She and I arranged ourselves around the rest of the circle in a roughly equilateral triangle.
“What are we supposed to do now?” I asked.
“You are supposed to sit there and do nothing,” Victoria said. She lit a large red candle and placed it near a big mixing bowl from my kitchen. She organized the offerings around it: the chicken, an eggplant, a saucer of rainwater, a cigar, and half a bottle of tequila I had fished out of an unused cabinet. When she was pleased with their arrangement, she settled herself, closed her eyes, and began tying a large white scarf over her short locks. “I’m going to go into a trance now. Please be quiet unless I ask you a question. If I do, answer it honestly and directly… Oh, and don’t leave the circle for any reason. This might take a couple of hours.” I considered protesting, but thought better of it. She seemed serious. I tried to get comfortable on the floor.
After a moment of silence had passed, Victoria began to sing softly. Her voice, high and clear, was actually quite pretty, despite the fact that the words were completely unintelligible. I can normally at least pick out what language a foreign linguist is speaking, but the song sounded utterly alien to me. I sneaked a glance at Dave. He was staring at Victoria intently, obviously deeply smitten. His body moved with each word of her song.
Suddenly, Victoria leaned forward and stretched her arms over the offerings. She began bobbing slowly, her torso bouncing with the rhythm. Her fingers stretched and reached, feeling each of the gifts in turn. They stopped on the cigar, which she lit from the candle, her eyes still shut tightly. The room was quickly filled with a pungent blue cloud as she blew smoke on each of the offerings. I was impressed that the cigar did not detract from her singing. Her voice became throatier and louder, with a rhythmic guttural quality at the bottom of each deepening bounce. Combined with the cigar, which never left her lips, the visual effect of the performance was… well… suggestive. I solidly refused to look at Dave. I was positive that he wasn’t looking at me.
The song became louder as she began tearing chicken into the bowl. As each piece dropped, she took a sip of the tequila and spit it out, spraying the circle with brown liquor. Between that, the cigar, and Dave’s own unique aroma, my living room was starting to smell like Mardi Gras.
Once the chicken had been well and truly mangled and the lion’s share of the tequila was soaking into my carpet, Victoria sat up. Her eyes opened and rolled back. My apartment was rapidly filling with smoke and song. Huge quantities of both sprayed from her mouth as she whipped her head backwards and bucked her chest rhythmically. Her scarf cut an elegant wake through it. The cigar stood erect in her clenched teeth, its glowing cherry burning like a lighthouse through the fog.
Death had done nothing to blunt Dave’s reflexes. In an instant, he was on his feet and moving to her, to comfort and protect her. She took shelter beneath his bulk.
My own reaction was slower. I hardly even noticed the form at first, just a slightly denser smear of smoke at the center of the circle. The smear thickened and took shape: first a column, then a rough silhouette. Smoke poured into the form and defined itself into something vaguely human. Limbs and features became more definite and coalesced into skin, eyes, mouth, and hair. The man now before us drew the last wisps of smoke in through his nostrils.
He was short, dark, and hirsute. His sharp brown eyes investigated his surroundings from beneath a jungle of coarse, dark hair. His dress was unremarkable: black shoes, stained brown slacks, and a red plaid short-sleeved shirt that was at least a size too small for his round belly. The top two buttons were undone, and it was difficult to tell where his chest hair stopped and his bushy beard started.
The man pointed toward the mangled food that he was now standing in.
“Anybody gonna eat that?” he said.
The three of us were silent with shock. I got the impression that this was a distinctly more overt manifestation than Victoria was used to. We stared at the intruder with awe.
“I’ll take that as a no,” he said, reaching down for the bowl and the remainder of the tequila. He began stuffing food into his mouth. “So… what is this? Like a séance or something?” Chicken crumbs spewed from his mouth as he spoke. His gaze fell on Dave for the first time. “WOAH! You look like shit, guy!” he said between mouthfuls. “You’re getting gunk all over that girl’s dress.”
Dave and Victoria looked down at one another and hurriedly disentangled themselves. His skin had indeed left a smoggy patina of grease down the front of her stark white frock. She pointedly failed to notice as she collected herself. “Who are you, and where is Oya?” she demanded.
“Oya?... Oh, you must mean Jessie. I can never keep track of what she’s calling herself these days.”
Victoria waited for further answers as he finished off the chicken and began licking the bowl. His tongue seemed disturbingly long, and the slurping noises he made wore through my patience quickly.
“She asked you a question,” I said. “Who the hell are you?”
He drained the bottle and dropped it, issuing a long belch as it smashed to the floor. “I’m Ukobach. Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Jason. This is MY apartment.” The anger in my voice was evident. Good. “Where is Oya?”
He finished with the bowl, and Dave caught it just before it joined the shattered bottle. “Jessie’s a little busy right now,” the man said. “I’m kind of taking her calls.”
“Well, we need her to help my friend,” I said, pointing at Dave. “He came back from the dead, and we need to know what to do about it.”
He peered at Dave intently. “Back from the dead, huh?...” He broke off the scrutiny and turned back towards me. “Well, sorry I can’t help you guys. Dead people aren’t my department, you know. Anyways, I gotta run. Good luck, though.”
I was furious. “You’re not going anywhere until you help us!” I yelled.
He looked amused. “And just how do you plan to keep me here, sport?”
“We summoned you, and you have to stay in the circle until we release you.” I realized that I had no actual idea what I was talking about. I looked at Victoria. “That’s the way it works, right?”
Ukobach began laughing loudly before she could answer. “Wrong kind of circle, Bub,” he said. He stepped out of it and strode to the coffee table. He was still laughing as he drew a cigarette from my pack and tore the filter off. It lit itself as he inhaled.
“So…” he said. “Are you going to send me back, or am I going to have to get angry?”
No answer came immediately to mind. I looked over at Victoria. Her eyes were wide and teary as she shook her head in perplexity. We sat staring at each other for minutes.
It was Dave who finally did something. He stood and walked over to the man. Dave stood at least two heads taller than him, but he was evidently frightened. His voice trembled. “What’d you say your name was, mister?”
“Ukobach,” the man replied.
“You’re a demon, right?”
“Correct.” He seemed utterly unfazed by this admission.
Dave leaned in, drawing closer to the thing’s face as he spoke. “Well, Mr. Demon, it’s like this… I’ve had a really bad week, and every time I turn around it just gets worse. I’ve been scared and hurt and confused ever since I crawled out of that hole, and I could really use some help. You look like a kind of fellow who could help me.” Dave had stopped shaking. He drew himself up to his full height. “Now, I don’t know if I can hurt you… but I know I don’t feel pain, and I don’t get tired. That means I’ve got right up until this body falls apart to find out.” He plucked the cigarette from the demon’s lips and moved so close to him that their noses touched. “So if you’re not going to help me… I’m just gonna beat you ‘till my arms fall off. ‘Cause I got nothing better to do.”
They stood motionless, Ukobach’s sparkling brown eyes locked onto Dave’s muddy grey ones. The demon broke first. “Fine,” he said, taking a step back and dropping his gaze. “You don’t have to get your panties all twisted.” Dave took another step forward, closing the distance again. The demon quickly retreated. “Ok! Ok! Everybody just calm down and take a seat.” No one moved. “Come on, guys! I’m trying to help you, really. Just get comfortable. I don’t know much, but what I know might take a while to explain.
The three of us shared a look of silent agreement. Victoria and I arranged ourselves on the couch. Dave retrieved Mr. Cluckers from the bathroom and sat cross-legged on the floor with him. The demon lit another of my cigarettes while we got settled. He puffed on it for a while, the ember bobbing up and down rapidly as he inhaled. He was obviously stalling.
“Well?” I asked. “Are you going to explain or not?”
The cigarette dangled from his lips as he spoke. “I’m getting to it… Just let me collect my thoughts, ok? I’m not really used to public speaking. I wish Naberius were here. That guy could talk the balls off a Brahma. I remember this one time, we were drunk off our asses in Rome, and we had this bet going about what the Pope wears under his robe…”
“Get to the point,” Victoria said.
“I’m getting there,” said Ukobach. He paced nervously as he spoke. “Just trying to lighten the mood a little is all. Everybody’s so uptight.” He paused for a moment, seemingly on the verge of continuing. “Is there any more of that chicken left?” he asked.
Dave cut him off. “Get on with it,” he growled menacingly.
The demon stood still for a moment, steeling himself. “Fine,” he said, in a lower tone. You want to know what the problem is? I’ll tell you what the problem is.” He puffed his cigarette furiously. “The whole problem started, in my estimation, when we stopped burning witches.”
Victoria opened her mouth to speak. From the look on her face, it wasn’t to congratulate him on his astute observation. He cut in before she could get started.
“I know what you're thinking. At least I've got a good gestalt of what you're thinking. It's indignant, appalled, and not a little erudite. It contains words like ‘patriarchal’, ‘ignorance’, ‘hysteria’, and ‘oppression’. Paranoid Joe McCarthys and ego-ecstatic Torquemadas flicker through your mind before throngs of self-flagellating penitents and orphaned babies. Your thoughts are righteous and justified.”
“What you're not thinking about are witches.”
“I'm not talking about the neo-hippie displaced urbanites who've appropriated the term. Neither am I talking about folk-religionists, fortune-tellers, medicine-women, or the crazy lady who lives alone with her cats at the end of the street. I mean witches: green-skinned, wart-bearing, toad-toting, broom-riding, malevolent ladies who engage in sexual congress with demons. Not ‘wyches’ or ‘wiccas’ or ‘Wiccans’. Witches.
“You see, if you've got witch-problems, the only real way to deal with it is to burn it out. The whole burning bit isn't really a matter of preference. It's a necessity. Believe me, if politely asking a witch to move along worked, everyone would just do that instead. Unfortunately, witches are seldom moved by civic duty, and they just don't go down any other way. I could go through the metaphysics of the whole thing, but you're better off just trusting me on this one. Cremation is the safest, most effective means of disposing of unwanted witches. And I've never met a wanted witch.”
“So why stop, right? Well, the whole thing kind of got political. Witches were a major problem back in the bad old days, right up until the Vatican got its act together and lent its pious torch to the problem. The put heavy hitters like Sprenger and Innocent VIII on the task, and by the time the Malleus Maleficarum hit Guttenberg's contraption, the whole issue was practically moot. There wasn't a witch to be found from Iberia to Hindustan.”
“The savvy economists in the crowd have probably already figured out what happened next. The Holy See was faced with a substantial glut of witch-hunters but very little in the way of actual witches for them to hunt. Like the storied farmer who, in attempting to solve his snake problem, develops a major mongoose affliction, the Church had worked themselves right out of business. And business had been good. This was, of course, centuries before Adam Smith, but the papacy had its own invisible hands at work. Rather than waiting for the supply to meet the demand, they decided to give the demand a little nudge upward.”
“It was a simple matter of redefinition. A witch by any other name is still a witch, so long as the people with the thumbscrews say it is. The Vatican turned the beady eyes of the Inquisition, an office formed to root out heresy, to the problem of finding all the missing witches that they just knew were around somewhere. Lo and behold, the Inquisitors found witches everywhere, and the church cleaned up on confiscated property and trial fees. They're still the largest landowner on Earth.”
“Over the ensuing centuries, the witch-hunters managed to find and execute exponentially more witches than had ever actually existed in Europe. Then, along came the Reformation. People started questioning whether or not every batty old widow with large tracks of arable land had to be a witch. Enlightenment philosophy caught on, the Inquisition was generally accepted as one big misunderstanding, and they dropped the whole bit. The burgeoning field of natural science made the tiny logical leap from “isn't” to “wasn't”. If the whole witch-craze was just a big hysterical con-job, there probably weren't any witches to begin with, right?”
“So fine. No witches. Happy world. The problem is… there were witches. And by assuming that witches can't be, we pretty much ensure that they will be.”
“I take that back. That's not the problem. The real problem, the real nub of the very matter, the whole damned issue is not the witches. The problem with witches isn't witches. The problem with witches is demons.”
“You see, your average witch was a real pain in the ass back in the Dark Ages. Agrarian societies have real reason to fear people who can manipulate the weather or make crops fail… especially if those people are not generally disposed towards being productive members of the community. That's why Moses exhorted his people to “not suffer a witch to live”. When you're trying to grow chickpeas in a desert under ox-power, even a novice witch can make real trouble.”
“Today, in the age of agribusiness and industrial farming, the issue is not nearly as acute. Even the most powerful covens would be hard pressed to make a dent in the productivity of a modern farm. Thousands of acres of genetically modified, disease-resistant, chemically-fertilized cropland just won't go and dry up, no matter how hard you shake a bone at it.”
“Similarly, witches have historically been blamed (with good reason) for still-births and infant deformities. Pre-natal vitamins, in-utero surgery, and modern obstetrics have rendered the witch basically impotent in this area as well.”
“You get the picture. White-man's magic won. Witches, even if they do still exist (which they do), are benign tumors. They can't cause any major harm, and the evil that they can do is easily remedied. Why worry?”
“The problem, like I said, isn't the witches. The problem with witches is demons, and demons don't really give a tin shit about modern medicine or production techniques. If a demon wants to do evil, evil will be done. It's kind of their whole shtick. I should know. I am one.”
“Witches have sex with demons. All other descriptors aside, that's what makes a witch a witch. It's the source of her power, her image, her familiars, her witchiness. To put it simply, witches don't go to sabbats for the atmosphere. They go for the company.”
He puffed his cigarette down to a nub before letting it sizzle out on the tip of his serpentine tongue. He swallowed it as he reached for another. I took the opportunity to interrupt. “I’m sorry, but what the hell does this history lesson have to do with Dave’s situation? We don’t have a witch problem.”
Ukobach rolled his eyes. “Of course you don’t. Didn’t I just say that? You have a demon problem. The witches are just an annoyance.”
“Wait… you’re saying that Dave was brought back by a demon?”
“Not exactly, no, but you’re getting closer. Your guy was brought back by witches in preparation for a demon. You see, like I said, witches get their power from demons. Your modern witch just isn’t powerful enough to make a dent in modern technology. The solution? Get a more powerful demon. In this case… well, let’s just say it’s gonna be a big one.”
“You mean the Devil?” Dave asked. He was clearly digusted to be a part of this.
“Think bigger,” replied Ukobach. He waited, but no one responded. “Look… you guys are clearly in over your heads. Suffice it to say that a group of very bad women are trying to summon a very bad thing and you guys would do well to stay the hell out of it. Ok?”
“Wait a second,” I said. “You’re telling us that witches brought Dave back from the dead to summon some kind of super-demon? That doesn’t make any sense. Why would they need him?”
“Oh they don’t need him. This is just kind of a by-product. You know your Bible?”
“I’ve read it.”
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works."
“That’s from Revelation. That’s about…” The realization struck me. “You’re talking about the end of the world!”
“An event likely to have odd side-effects…” He pointed to Dave, “…like those experience by tall, dark, and gruesome over here.” Ukobach dragged deeply on his smoke. “The effect is small right now. I think they’re just getting the ball rolling. You can probably expect more risers in the near future. Most of them won’t be nearly as charming.”
“So what are we supposed to do now?” Victoria asked.
“If I were you, I’d find a nice secluded place and stock up on supplies and ammunition. It’s going to get pretty nasty soon.”
“I meant what should we do about Dave.” She placed her hand on the big guy’s shoulder. He stared at it, and melted slightly.
“Hit him with some air freshener and hope for the best, I guess… Look I don’t have all the answers you need. Just know that there are people working on this.”
“How do you know all this stuff anyway?” she asked. “Do they hand out Armageddon handbooks in Hell?”
“I wouldn’t know,” he said, seriously. “I haven’t been there in a while. Suffice it to say that I’ve been through this before.”
“When?” I asked.
“Round about 1350, all over Europe and Central Asia… Look, I’ve told you everything I know. Are you going to send me back or not?”
“Fine,” Victoria said. “How do we send you back?”
Ukobach was stunned for a moment. “You’re asking me?” he said. “How the hell should I know? You’re the one who brought me here.”
“I was trying to bring Oya!”
“Well, how do you send her back?”
“I don’t. She just leaves when we’re done.”
Ukobach threw his arms in the air. “DAMMIT!” he yelled. “I can’t believe I agreed to this.” He shook his finger at Victoria as he spoke. “I’ll tell you one thing… The next time she has to run off for some emergency, she can damn well get someone else to cover for her! This is bullshit!” He stood with his arms crossed, his cigarette jigging irritably.
Victoria was taken aback. “I’m sorry?” she said. “Maybe we can… I don’t know. If you get back in the circle, maybe…”
He crushed out his smoke and quickly lit another. “No,” he said. “Just forget it. I’ll find my way back.” He headed for the door. We all sat dumbly, unsure of what to say. Ukobach flung the front door open. He shouted back at us. “Next time you need help, call 911. I’m not coming!” He slammed the door shut behind him.
The three of us exchanged uneasy glances. Dave broke the silence. “Well… that guy was a real jerk. I don’t think Mr. Cluckers liked him either.”
“Buck!” said Mr. Cluckers. We each stared at him for several minutes.
It was Victoria that spoke this time. “So what do we do now?” she asked.
Well, you heard the lady. What do they do now? The party has a little more information now, but not much of it is useful. Any ideas?
Bonus Question: What about Dave's ultimate fate? He doesn't have to make any big decisions right this instant, but it's definitely something to think about for the near future. What would you be after, in this situation?
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