Archive for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Day 20

Posted in Words with tags on November 21, 2011 by bradellison

Blowin’ On Down The Road

Let’s go back a ways. Way back, before it all really got started, way up north around St. Paul or somewhere in Minnesota, there was an old farmhouse. Kind of way out in the middle of the prairie, miles from any other habitation. The horizon there was broken by the house, the abandoned grain silo, a barn that had fallen in on itself, and two sheds packed with over a century’s worth of farm junk and mathoms. Around that time, the chief resident of this house, he built himself a freestanding garage for housing his Cadillac, which seemed to be the only thing he really loved in this world. This was evident to the other folk that shared his roof; a quiet woman given to nervousness and timidity after years of his company, three kids who learned fast how uncaring the world is, and an aging man he called Pop. Pop had been a hard and uncaring kind of a father himself in his day, and his son followed along the path he’d shown. Pop’s wife was long since in her grave, to which she’d gone early after withering like a flower in stony ground.

The youngest of the three kids was the only boy, and was named for Pop, Richard. The head of the household was in the habit of being addressed as Mr. Stane.

It was a cold place, all told, in all the ways the word could be taken. The boy Richard learned a lot of lessons that he’d apply for the rest of his life.

There wasn’t much said about Mr. Stane in town, and that little was seldom good. His temper and unfriendly disposition were known, and commented on, but he had no visitors up out there.

So, there were secrets in that old house, never even whispered about, nor ever known to those outside the house. Down in the basement was an old root cellar he’d converted into a room for discipline. His idea of discipline was ugly. Uglier still was the turn things took when he began noticing his daughters growing up. Things of that sort always have been known to happen from time to time, in the lonely outside portions of the world. Lots of the slurs about folk from the Appalachians and the Ozarks, from Alabama or Arkansas or the swamps of Louisiana, they come from this plain truth: when there’s enough space between you and your neighbors, there’s no one to stop you from doing whatever the hell you want.

So that’s how things were going right around the time the boy Richard was coming on ten or eleven. As far as the particulars go, that’s a little less well known. Reason for that is the way the whole farm was put to the torch around the time the boy was twelve. The mother was dead from a noose around the neck, and who had put it there was never clear to investigators. Pop, he died from smoke inhalation upstairs, while the girls came out all right. That’s all right as far as the fire went. The younger one was barely thirteen, and rest of her life she never talked much, about what was done to her or about anything else. The oldest ended up stripping, then hooking, and heroin proved to be the death of her before thirty.

The boy, though, young Richard Stane, he was never seen or heard from again anywhere in the state of Minnesota, neither him nor the Cadillac the old man had loved.

One thing, one of the only things really, that was said by the younger daughter while the sheriff’s department was putting the pieces of the thing together, was this: her brother had begun to talk about hearing voices, and the ideas they gave him seem to skew in the direction of ugliness. She didn’t elaborate about how or what kind of ugliness.

The car was swapped as a gift to an old shaman in North Dakota, a man shunned by his neighbors for his drunkenness and vicious nature, and the way he was said to deal with malevolent spirits with ill intent. All this was true, but he was the one the voices had directed young Stane to. In exchange for the car, which ended up being sold in shady fashion and ultimately chopped, the shaman took the boy in and began instructing him. He taught him the rudiments he knew, the foundation of knowledge. The layers of being, the worlds beyond the world, and presence of the things outside. That bargains could be struck with them, and that they could grant much to someone willing to deal.

He also taught the boy a lot of worthless bullshit, meaningless ritual and wrong-headed cosmology miced in with the useful knowledge. Stane was a keen pupil however, and gifted. He had a knack for sorting out the pearls of value from the dross. He even managed to avoid picking up his first teacher’s bad habits. Cheap booze and meth fueled the old man, but even as a boy Stane could see that was a sucker’s road. He was sixteen when he decided he’d learned about everything he could from the shaman, and left in the old man’s pickup one night and never came back. Turns out trying to bind a bear manitou while tweaking hard on your third sleepless night in a row is a bad idea, and so the old man died alone and unmourned, in pieces.

After that he was on his own for a while. He skipped any drugs that wouldn’t help him open doors, managed to avoid jail time, and after a time found another instructor, a Freemason who had committed two unsolved sexually oriented murders and had been working on his third when they crossed paths. That’s where Stane really got to find out about the power that came from death. By the time the Freemason had five unsolved murders and a newspaper nickname (the Pentagram Killer), Stane felt like he’d reached another plateau, and decided to try a more direct avenue of learning. He ate the mason’s eyes, sipped fluids from his brainpan, and took a massive amount of peyote. The results were compelling.

After that he’d taken to the road in earnest. With what he knew and knew how to do, gambling wasn’t really gambling, and that financed him pretty well. He began to get a sort of a reputation in the underground scene, the really underground one where the diggers in darkness can be found. Any place more than three or four people with enough of a spark to light a candle with their bare hands gathered, he and his big black car were known. His name was not, for everyone he’d ever learned from had told him that rule right off the bat. Names are power, names are hooks, and if someone gets you by that hook they’ve got you pretty thoroughly. Most people’s real name, their true essential definition of self, it isn’t what’s printed on their birth certificate. But why take chances? That was the Driver’s view on it.

Rumor drew him to Missouri’s backwoods. He drifted through there, found himself pulled like filings near a lodestone, and he followed his impulses and the voices that still occasionally whispered to him. Followed them all the way to his final master.

Haverly had been hardly anything then, a breath of dusty air. But he was just together enough to teach Stane how to make him more so. Then he was strong enough to teach Stane how to accumulate power faster, easier. Turns out all you had to do was take it away from someone who already had it. The Driver turned out to be good at that.

In return, the old ghost wanted a few things. Blood, for starters. Stane didn’t need much of it himself, other than what he made inside his own skin, so that worked out fine for him. The other thing was help with some business in Texas.

The Driver was reluctant, but the old ghost promised him a great deal. On top of that, the Driver began to consider the possibility that if he went along with things, he’d get a chance to feed on everything his master was. That, if he could swing it, would make him truly terrible.

For the Driver’s part, whatever other motives or yearnings he’d had in life had been drowned out by that one single need. Power, and plenty of it.

There are nooks and crannies and backroads to hide in in the hill country, if your sole aim is the evade pursuit. At very least, it was a good place to pass through while on the lookout for a new set of license plates. Given the lateness of the hour, Phil eventually located some attached to a car parked in solitude midway out in a supermarket parking lot just outside the brightest arc of the nearest halogen lamp, and with Branson’s help he was able to slip up and quickly unscrew them without attracting direct attention. For the security cameras, he wore a bandanna under his eyes.

The next step was stocking up, and Phil did all he could to make his window of opportunity count. Five days worth of road groceries, the likes of jerky and trail mix and dried fruit, with plenty of gatorade and energy drinks. A couple of boxes of .357 magnum ammunition. A serious four-cell flashlight and some D batteries. A serious shovel, and a pick for good measure. Road maps showing the whole state of Texas, and every city Phil could find a map for between here and El Paso. And a couple of 5-gallon gas cans. After pulling out the maximum cashback amount he could checking out of the Wal-Mart, Phil went straight to the gas station at the end of the lot and pumped the tank and the cans full of all the gasoline they’d hold.

Once he did that, he drove twenty miles, pulled into another gas station, and discreetly threw the credit card away.

And you’re sayin’ they’ve got ways of trackin’ those things?

“Yeah. I’m not exactly an expert, but they can track them. It’ll have to be cash from here on out. We’ve got enough fuel to last us a while, but I’m not sure just how far we’ve got.”

Better make the most of it, then. Let’s ride.

They rode. Weaving through the curving roads of the rippling land south and east of Austin, they moved along a course Phil figured would avoid any pursuit. He maybe wasn’t thinking with perfect clarity, but he was starting to at least enter into the spirit of the thing. It seemed he was an outlaw now, without ever having wanted that to be the case.

“Hey, Harry,” he said, “how’d you end up an outlaw?”

The ghost in his head gave somehow the impression of shrugging unseen. After the war, most of us was either dead, or sick of the whole business. Most everybody surrendered, swore the oath, and gave up their guns.

“But not you. Didn’t I see that in The Outlaw Josey Wales?”

Don’t know anything about that. Anyway, not everybody surrendered, or stayed surrendered. Some rode off and joined up with General Shelby down Mexico way. Others, like me and Woodrell and Ewell and Mackeson, or likes the James boys and the Youngers, we ended up on the outlaw trail. Still doing a lot of the same things we’d been doing previous, but now there wasn’t anybody else fighting the war. By the end of it, my end I mean, most of us had given up caring about what the war was supposed to be about and hell, mostly we’d stopped caring by the time it was over, but we didn’t see any other way to make our way in the world. Ridin’ and shootin’ was our skills, and we made ’em to pay as best we could, as long as we could.

“So how’d you end up getting into the Guerrilla thing to start with? When did that start making sense?”

Older brother got killed by Brown’s boys. Well, I took that personal. Blood for blood’s the way we always took things, same way it’d always been done going back before our great-great-great-granddaddys crossed the ocean.

“Revenge. And now this guy’s trying to get revenge on me, because of what you did to him while you were trying to get revenge on the Kansas guys, and hey, been a while since history class, but weren’t they getting some revenge for stuff guys from Missouri did?” Phil rubbed the bridge of his nose, and when he next came to a stop sign he cracked open a can of Monster and threw back half of it in one swig.

How things start ain’t always what’s important. It’s finishing things that matters.

“Well, these guys are sure as hell trying to finish things for me. Hey, speaking of which, if I gotta dig you up, can I get some more specific directions than ‘West’?”

Near Fort Stockton.

Ok. Gonna pull over at some point, and figure out where that is.”

It was coming up on four AM when Phil had his course charted, and by then there were subtle signs in the sky that night might not last forever. He began keeping his eyes peeled for the cheapest motel he could find, and when he spotted a winner, he pulled in, paid cash, and went straight down into sleep almost as soon as he’d locked and chained the door. His dreams were absolutely terrible, but he didn’t wake up from them for ten straight hours, and the nightmares were interspersed with deep pools of blackness where all trace of consciousness was expunged.

The Driver rolled through midnight streets, getting back into the feel of himself. He’d lost control. The results had been disastrous. He’d wasted more magic than most practitioners would have been able to amass in a century, and gotten nothing for it but bullet holes. The mojo he’d wolfed down, the mana he had eaten, it didn’t come near enough to covering the operating costs on that one.

The problem was not thinking smart. The rush had been too much, and he’d let it go to his head. Went all blunt-instrument. Made a mess. He hadn’t made a mistake like that since he was a boy.

So, thinking smart, being the man with the plan, that was the name of the game now.

Remember, man, you got to outwit Old Man Haverly at the end of the day, too. Can’t be having any more slip-ups. No, that won’t do at all.

NaNoWriMo Day 19

Posted in Words with tags on November 20, 2011 by bradellison

The thing shoved a flayed hand through the hole, grasping for the knob. Phil recoiled.

Head in the game, son! Move!

Phil turned, swept his gaze around the room, looking for options. The window hadn’t been opened in at least two years, was actually painted shut, and was three stories up. The only door was the one getting forced open by a dead thing. The gun was out of bullets.

His eyes settled on an aluminium softball bat. Well, hell, not a lot of options.

The door opened. The flayed corpse pulled its obscene arm back through the hole it had made. Pushing the door open wide, it staggered in, raising the cleaver on high.

Phil stepped in and swung away, the bat’s arc bisecting the thing’s left arm, connecting with a tremendous crack. The cleaver came down, but the bat’s impact knocked the thing off balance and to the side, and the chopping blow missed. Phil was too busy to notice how narrowly it missed, which was a good thing for the state of his nerves. He immediately wound up and swung again, aiming low this time. This strike was less potent, connecting but at a glancing angle. The flayed thing was shaken off-balance, it seemed, but this didn’t deter it from reaching back and lashing forward with a horizontal sweep of the cleaver.

It miscalculated its lunge. Phil actually found himself inside the thing’s reach, and instead of taking a blade to the face, he was clocked by the naked meat and gristle around the revenant’s elbow. It was a tremendous blow, and put him on the floor.

working off of instinct, he rolled onto his back and thrust straight upwards with the bat. He connected with the thing’s torso, shoving it back and off-balance again. It was tremendously strong, but clumsy.

The flayed thing staggered back two steps, regained its balance, and came in with another vertical chop. Phil brought the bat up to meet it, hitting it between the wrist and elbow. This was accomplished by luck as much as anything else.

The radius and ulna held, but the naked muscle squished under the impact, and the naked fingers, which resembled a puppet’s hand dipped in blood, lost their grip on the cleaver’s handle. The dropped blade gashed Phil’s left arm, which he didn’t notice until afterwards. He pressed the advantage, throwing a series of rapid-fire blows at the thing. Its left arm was broken and worthless, but it fended off the assault with its right and did so with some skill, all things considered.

Phil raised the bat over his head in a two-handed executioner’s stance, and brought it down as hard as he could, like he was ringing a carnival bell with a mallet. The time the bones of the dead creature’s forearm did give way, and the bat continued down to crack against the thing’s naked skull.

Phil’s hands were numb, arms tingling, and he’d dropped the bat. The shock of impact was something he hadn’t really been braced for. The undead didn’t look too perturbed, though. It lunged at him teeth-first.

Phil was in the middle of the most horrible wrestling match imaginable. His dead friend’s mostly skinless mutilated body, still full of knives, was writhing atop him like a snake, bearing him down to the floor and trying to get jaws on his throat. The broken arms mostly flailed uselessly. Phil had the use of his arms, but the unholy thing on him was stronger than a man, and slick with gore. He was past horror, but he found he was still capable of disgust, and he couldn’t get a grip.

That changed when his hand happened to fall upon the handle of the steak knife buried in the left pectoral. Like everything else in his world now, it was slick with blood, but the molded plastic was shaped for easy gripping. He tried using it as a lever, and managed to force the thing back off of him. Then the blade tore loose from the muscle with a wet ripping sound, and the bloody skull was coming back at his throat.

Phil somehow got the blade into its eye socket, and jammed it in until it stuck. He used his new leverage to force the head back, and grabbed the knife in the right pectoral, pulling it out with his left hand.

With the eye knife holding the creature in place, he began sawing at the throat.

It took a while, and he found it to be incredibly difficult to get all the way through the spine, but in the end he managed it. His arms were tired, and actually beginning to cramp.

When the head came off, the body went limp for just a heartbeat, then suddenly snapped to and started thrashing like a dying snake. That took a while, too.

“Not bad, for such a soft fool,” the head said to him. “I’ll see ye further down the road.” Then it was still.

It was all done.

After a few minutes of heavy breathing teetering on the brink of hyperventilation, Phil got up. His arms were starting to cramp up. Looking around his room, he saw that pretty much everything was smeared or spattered with Amir’s blood.

“Well, shit,” he said.

Still wanna try explaining everything to the cops?

“I’m gonna take another shower. Then we’ll see what he had in his wallet. Probably a good idea to grab a screwdriver for swapping out his plates, too.”

NaNoWriMo Day 17

Posted in Words with tags on November 18, 2011 by bradellison

Amir had been laid out spread-eagle on the coffee table, and laid open with an anatomist’s thoroughness. Bowls from the kitchen had been obtained, pots and pans, and each individual organ had been placed in one as if he had been a Pharoah being made ready for his interment and the voyage that was to come after it. Not a drop of blood was left anywhere, in the body our with the organs or upon the furnishings. The skin was all pulled back. Veins, tendons and nerves were all unfurled, spread out in a carefully measured web, a spray of long thin pieces that had connected the flesh. The muscles were seemingly intact, but the principal muscle groups all had at least one steak knife, also from the kitchen, thrust in deep to mark them. The teeth had been freshly brushed, and so had the skull laid bare above the eyebrows, scrubbed immaculate.

Phil Warner quickly vomited up the fast food in his stomach, puked up everything at all that he could down to the bile.

Branson had seen worse, in his day, and he knew what it was to be a young man dunked face-first into a bucketful of horror. He gave Phil about a minute to finish heaving, and started giving clear, sharp instructions for him to focus on.

Don’t look at it. It’s bad, yeah, but you’ve seen a lot of bad today. Focus on what’s next. Pack.

Phil moved through an ugly dream. At Branson’s goading, he managed to find a never-used gym bag, and throw some clean clothes in it, enough to last him a week or so. Toothbrush. Mouthwash. Branson got him stripped and under the shower, washing as much of the foulness away as he could with water and lather. He stayed in until the hot water ran out entirely, and scrubbed himself raw from head to foot and back down again. Blood, piss, dirt, mud, and memories. He got everything off his skin, at least, toweled off, thoroughly, and dressed himself in his own clothes.

All right. Now, next thing to think on is how we’re getting out of here. This part I don’t think you’ll like.

Phil was too numb now to try talking back.

Amir had a car too, right? Had a wallet too, I bet.

“Jesus fuck, man! What the fuck is wrong with you?”

We need a road stake.

“I should go to the police! My roommate’s been disassembled in the next room!”

And you took a shower and packed a bag already before reporting it. I told you, going to the law will get you killed.

“This is too fucked up! Drawing the line here, not gonna loot my dead roommate’s body!”

All right then, you best come up with some other way to get a car and a stack of cash! I’m listening!

Phil shut his eyes and slumped against the wall. He felt like crying, and didn’t fight it.

“Ok, shit. What do we do, rob a convenience store or something?”

I know how it’s done. You’d just have to ride along.

“Shit, man, let me think a second. Just, just let me get my head straight, ok?” Phil started taking in deep breaths, and Branson went quiet.

“Ok, so, I think probably the next step should be–“

A noise came from the living room. Phil screamed.

It wasn’t a big noise, just a faint scraping or dragging sound, like a chair being pushed to one side across a floor, or a glass being slid across a table surface without a coaster. A soft rasp.

There was just the little matter of there being nothing living in that room that would be making a noise like that. That was the thing the froze Phil’s spine and clenched his muscles in a tight spasm.

More noise. Something clumsy. Something got knocked over. Phil felt himself starting to paralyze. His heart was hammering and his other muscles refused to move.

It started coming closer.

Phil, he’d had it with all this. He snapped to his feet so suddenly that he didn’t even realize he’d done it, and turned to throw open the door and glare into the next room. “What the fuck do you want with me? I’ve had it with all this shit!”

Then he registered what he was yelling at, and regretted his boldness. Amir had gotten up, leaving most of his skin behind, or draping off his head like a cloak, the lower half of his face still more or less in place and looking like a Halloween mask being worn by a skeleton. His loose tendons and the excavated tubing of his circulatory system flapped loose with every shambling step. The knives still pinned its muscles, but it had picked up the cleaver which must have been lying unnoticed in the room.

It opened its mouth, and despite its tongue being currently in a small mixing bowl on the sofa, it said “Ye’ll die slow, and leave yer living flesh behind. When I’ve finished with ye, Hell will seem a respite. When I finish with yer pet ghost, well, there won’t be enough of Harry Branson for the Devil to work over!”

It’s him! said Branson. Phil was too shocked to note it, but on later contemplation he’d think the remark a trifle unhelpful or unnecessary.

“Will ye run, ye little cocksucker? My hound will find ye! I’ve trained him for the work, and we’ve yer scent now, sure and true!” The dead thing shuffled forward, raising the cleaver high, ready to come down in a brutal guillotine chop. “Or will ye stand here, and let it be done now?”

Phil stepped back into his room and shut the door, locking it with the little push-button. A few moments later, the heavy blade chopped down through the thin cheap material of the door, then was yanked out and brought down again. After four or five resounding blows, The was a sizable hole, through which the eyeless bare-skulled revenant grinned.

NaNoWriMo Day 16

Posted in Words with tags on November 17, 2011 by bradellison

In a ditch, was where he came to himself. A narrow, deep cement-lined channel obscured and obscuring his view of anything but a cold blue sky as he lay on his back. Phil Warner was covered in ache and full of soreness, scrapes, blisters, and the cut on his arm to add variety. He was sweaty, bloody, dazed, thoroughly disoriented, and beginning to realize just how hungry he was.

He fished his cell phone out of his hip pocket with his left hand, wincing all the while he did it. The case was heavily battered and the screen had a hairline crack in it, but it was still usable at least to tell time. Hours had gone by, and it wouldn’t be too long until the sun went down.

Good, you’re awake.

“Ah, hell.” Phil stiffly and carefully pulled himself up into a sitting position and tried to figure out where he was.

Not too far from your office. It’s mostly open ground near the road, of course, and I don’t know the territory. I managed about a mile and a half, I think, of distance. Didn’t get seen doing it, which is the main thing. Found this place, and judged it’d do for us till you were rested some.

“Guess that means it wasn’t all a nightmare.” Phil closed his eyes again and tried to push the throbbing signals of his body away for a minute and think.

Nope. All real.

“Well, shit,” Phil said philosophically.

Things could be a damn sight worse. A goddamn sight worse. I dunno what that thing was that came for you, some creature of Haverly’s no doubt, but whatever it was it didn’t take to bullets.

“So you killed it?”

Said things could be worse, not that we were sitting pretty on a hill of fortune.

“Man, I don’t even know what that means. So this thing survived getting pumped full of enough bullets to kill Fiddy and that’s not a worst-case scenario. I mean, put yourself in my shows for a minute, this is some serious bullshit. It’s not just me being crazy here, I mean this is objectively fucked.”

Can’t argue. But you’re alive. Thing like that, devil right out of Hell or near enough to it, it comes to kill you and shows just how good it is at killing, and when the dust settles you’re alive and all in one piece. And you showed some nerve, which is good because that’s the only thing you’ve got, and you’ll need plenty of it.

“So what next? Wait, first off, where am I?”

I figured it to be an irrigation ditch or similar. Pretty near due northwest from where we started when that thing went down, and as I said about a mile and a half or so of distance. Not sure how near that is to how the crow would fly it, though. I was cutting back and forth a bit. Found this here, judged it to be pretty well out of the way enough to lay low in until nightfall. Saw signs of a vagrant camp or something a ways up that way, but not fresh, and we’ve got space enough from it I think.

“Great. I’m in a hobo ditch in the middle of nowhere. This is an awesome place to recuperate in.”

I made sure your arm was done bleeding, and nothing else seemed notable.

“Yeah, well, it still all hurts like a barrel of motherfuckers.” Phil took a quick inventory. Clothes, mostly torn, bloody, muddy, or pissed-in. Cell phone, clobbered. Gun, stolen from a mugger and currently empty. Cross, slightly misshapen by mishap and stained a little with own blood. Wallet, containing two dollars and a Wells Fargo Visa debit card attached to a checking account with $132.71 in it. Better than nothing.

“Ok, if we’re done playing cowboys and indians it’s time to figure out a plan.”

Head west.

“Yeah, that’s an objective, not a plan. Step one here is gonna have to be getting some aspirin and some pants that don’t smell like piss. I’m pretty sure there’s a Wal-Mart not too far from here, but it’s still gonna be a bitch of a walk. After that, I dunno. Head back to the apartment.”

Gonna be nothing for you there. Based on what came for you at work, these seem like the kind to burn your whole life to the ground.

“Yeah, well, we’ll see.”

Phil staggered upright, and began putting one foot in front of another.

He kept doing that for a while.

*

This is a pretty damned awful place.

“They don’t let bloody guys who’ve pissed themselves into nice places. Shut up.”

Phil didn’t care too much that he seemed to be muttering to himself in public. He was past any kind of self-consciousness. He was in an echoing fluorescent pit, and didn’t disagree with anything Branson had to say about it, but he had things to do here.

Right now, he was washing himself a little in the men’s room up front of the store, getting the blood and such off his face and hands as best he could. He also rinsed out the cut on his arm as best he could, and made a note to get some peroxide or something.

The men who entered the restroom while he was at it gave him a pretty wide berth. Not surprising. He’d have stepped pretty damn wide around himself had he seen someone so obviously fucked up a week before. He looked and smelled like a homeless drunk.

He rolled with that persona as he did his shopping. Cheap jeans, T-shirt, jacket, fresh underwear and socks, and then the most serious pain pills he could find over the counter in the pharmacy, as well as disinfectant and bandages. He ignored the dubious expression on the face of the tired-looking young cashier, and went back into the mens’ room, this time to change. He needed a shower pretty bad, but clean clothes were a big help. He then wrapped up his arm and exceeded the recommended dosage on his pills.

When he came out of the bathroom, old clothes left behind in the trash, he felt moderately better, and after he had one of everything on the dollar menu of the McDonalds at the front of the store, he felt downright human.

This ain’t beef.

“Told you to shut up. We’re in public, looking crazy isn’t going to do me any favors here.”

I dunno what they put in this, or whether it used to be part of a cow or not, but I’m tasting it same as you are, and it ain’t anything like beef.

“Maybe not, but it’s here, it’s a dollar, and it’s hitting the spot. Explain to me why I’m supposed to go west.”

That’s where I’m buried. And I’ve given this a lot of thought, now, there’s some things you’re going to need there.

“Like what?”

From what I’ve heard, strongest magic there is is bone magic. Ancestor’s bones, maybe that’s something you could make use of. But there’s also my gun.

“Your gun.”

I shoved it in the old wizard’s belly and pulled the trigger. It took its toll on him then. It got his blood all over it. Blood’s almost as strong as bone. I reckon if there’s any weapon you can find that will settle this whole business, it’s the one.

“It’s a hundred-fifty-year-old pistol that’s been buried in the desert next to a corpse for most of that time. I’m not an expert, but I don’t figure that’ll do us much good.”

Old can be mended. Rusty can be cleaned. You need this gun.

“If you say so. So the plan is I go out into the desert, dig up your bones, get this old-ass gun, shine it up, and then use it to shoot this ghost?” Phil heard the old woman behind him suddenly stop slurping at her straw, so he turned around and gave her a “what the fuck are you looking at” look to teach her not to eavesdrop. She looked pretty horrified.

That’ll do for starters.

“Then first I need to figure out how to get home. Maybe I should be talking to the police.”

No. Law can’t help. Only get in your way.

“Says the outlaw. Well, my car’s about three four miles away on the other side of a busy road with 60-mile-per-hour traffic. Any thoughts there?”

Sounds like you’re the idea man in this outfit now.

“Fuck it, I’m calling a cab.”

Don’t forget where we stashed the gun. We’ll want that.

“Ok, ok. I’ll just try not to look too much like a crazy skulking bum retreiving a stolen gun from behind a Dumpster.”

Just do as best you can.

“Well, my phone’s low on battery, and it ain’t getting any darker. Guess it’ll be now.”

He retrieved the gun from where it had been stowed out round back of the Wal-Mart, in the lee of the big gray block of a building, where nobody went or even looked at unless they were taking a smoke break after parking a truck to be unloaded. He got it tucked away in the back of his pants and covered by the cheap jacket he’d bought, pretty well concealed. Then he went back to the front and called for a cab.

He tried to ignore Harry Branson’s desire for a cigarette while he waited. God, he was tired.

He was on the brink of dozing off for the whole duration of the cab ride. When he reached his apartment he was getting low on funds, and his eyes were no longer staying open. The cold shape of the gun at his back didn’t let him sleep, though.

Besides, any time he closed his eyes, he was starting to see things from earlier in the day, and that wasn’t doing him any favors.

He was at his door before remembering that his keys had been dropped on the asphalt when the cars started burning, and seemingly never retrieved.

Luckily, the door was unlocked.

Flip side to that was after he walked through it, he saw what was left of Amir, and knew he wasn’t likely to do much sleeping. Maybe never again.

NaNoWriMo Day 15

Posted in Words with tags on November 16, 2011 by bradellison

The Driver was well past his humanity now, past remnants of conscience, past reason, past all sense of self or place. He was riding a wave of frenzy, feeling nothing but hunger and need that he sought to slake with blood and souls. The air was full of terror and copper stink, screams and lamentations reverberating.

A distant voice of something that was not sanity, but was closer to sanity than anything on deck in his blackened bloodstained soul, began shouting.

The Quarry.

The purpose.

The entire objective of this whole affair.

Phil Warner was escaping.

The Driver had just torn a scrawny man roughly in half across the vicinity of his waist, sickle-hand hooked up under his jaw and grasping talon wrapped around his ankle. His tongue probed the lungs, and he had begun chewing on the left one when some still-conscious fragment advised him to look up and redeem the time. The scrap meat was dropped to the blackening carpet, and the beast moved to intercept, gulping down a third bone as it went. A wave of fresh power exploded off from him, blasting furniture, computers and the dead and wounded away like a shock wave.

Phil lay on the asphalt, gasping and bleeding some. He was as scared as he had ever been in his life, as scared as he ever would be again, and there seemed to be no remedy.

Get up! Goddamn you, get up!

He rolled over onto his face, glass crunching under him. He sucked in a lungful of coppery air, and set his shaking limbs under him as best he could.

We’re out of time! Move!

He moved. Up onto his hands and knees. Try to get on top of the legs. Try to get the legs straight. Don’t let the knees betray you now, hold them fast. There.

Phil Warner stood upright. He stank and dripped with his own urine, and blood from many sources including his own torn forearm and gashed scalp. His legs shook like reeds and barely managed his weight, and his hands were palsied with pure terror, but Phil Warner stood upright. Somehow the little silver cross was still in his hand, pressed deep into the flesh and dripping red with it, bloody like every other thing in the world just at present. He stared at his battered reflection in the tinted mirror-surface of the window’s intact portion, and saw his ancestor standing behind him, supporting hand clapped on his shoulder and a look of some pride on his face together with the desperation the moment indubitably called for.

Damn right, boy! Now saddle up and ride!

Phil turned to make his way towards his car. That was, of course, the moment the killing thing lashed out at the window with a howl that translated into a supersonic blast of shuddering force that sundered the glass into a cloud of jag-edged fragments. The blizzard of glass tore into the pickup truck parked directly in its path like a shotgun blast, narrowly missing Phil.

Phil began to do as close as he could to running. Awkward stagger-jog, legs shaking and knees weak, but covering ground because he’d seen what was behind, at his heels.

Doom.

The great sickle of its left arm ripped the frame of the window all apart, clearing the path for eight feet of abomination to pass through. Eight feet of pure festering insult to God Almighty, standing now in the Texas sun, cool clean clear-smelling autumn breeze choking on the aura of bloody rot it bore about it.

Phil didn’t know any prayers. Branson had forgotten the ones he’d once been taught. Between them though they had a sort of continuous howl to the heavens going steady, pleading with any benevolent higher power to step in and take a hand.

Phil Kept his feet, and his forward momentum. More help than that, God didn’t seem to be handing out today.

He heard the click of the steel taps on the things boots, as it stepped after him. Phil put out a burst of speed, was almost in reach of the car.

The thing behind him wasn’t going to permit this.

Phil was digging out his keys when the thing howled something like a word, and the car’s engine exploded into green fire. For good measure, every other vehicle in thirty feet followed suit, forming a rough circle of verdant corpselight and swallowing up the oxygen with a roar. Glass shattered. Phil dropped his keys in stunned surprise. The heat seared his eyes, and he squinted them shut.

The hunter was closer.

No escape.

No hope.

He was going to die here, die now. He’d go out horribly, painfully, in shame and fear, and that would be the end of him forever.

Gun, dammit!

He blinked. The gun?

Revolver’s still in the car, and I ain’t yet seen anything bullets wouldn’t do for!

Phil had never held a real gun in his life, and his hands were shaking like they held a jackhammer.

Dammit. Gimme the reins boy!

Phil looked up at the towering spindle-limbed reaver coming at him, locked his eyes on the green firepits sunk into its distorted face, and made the decision. He let go, and let Harry Branson rise up to fill his hands.

As a spectator he watched his left hand blur, slamming the glove compartment open and diving in. Somehow, there was a gun in it now. Faster than thought it was cocked, and by the time Phil realized it was now in his right hand, the hammer was falling for the third time.

Harry Branson had learned to handle a revolver in an unforgiving environment, where speed was prized over accuracy. Only the truly exceptional could have been called marksmen with the sidearms the guerrillas favored. It hadn’t ever been any brag when Branson claimed himself to be exceptional in this regard. His eye looked straight and his hand obeyed. When he aimed, it was as if his finger was pointing right out from his pupil, and every one of the first three lightning shots he cast loose at the attacker took effect. One tore a chunk of meat off a rib. Another one sunk into the thing’s thigh. The third seemed to drill right into its sternum, pulling it up short.

The fires seemed to dull some, to recede.

Harry Branson took his time and aimed careful.

A bullet plowed into the thing’s brow, exploding blood and bone out from its forehead like the birth of Athena. A second bullet tore a ragged hole in its throat. The last one in the cylinder, it took the thing right in one burning green eye, and that’s when the monster finally flopped back on the ground with it’s limbs splayed and twitching, keening horribly.

The parking lot was on fire. There was a big black car rammed into the building and a big ragged hole torn into the walls besides that. The building was full of torn, mangled, charred corpses, and survivors whose grips on sanity would be shaky a while. Sirens were getting closer and closer, howling alarm for all to hear.

And the monster didn’t look dead yet.

Hurt, yeah, hurt pretty damn bad. But not dead by half. And every bullet Branson had possessed already passed through the thing, leaving him with an empty gun and fuck-all.

All that being the case, the canny outlaw move was to go for distance and cover.

Branson and his descendant’s body ran.

The Driver, the beast, the killer, the monster, the wizard, the damned man, Richard Stane, he floated in the place between the worlds.

There were threads binding him, delicate as spiderwebs. Some of them were tethering him to the distorted meat on the ground in a Texas parking lot. Others bound him to the things whose names he had called upon, to whom he owed a debt for his power and his secrets.

There was no color here, for there had never been any light. No shapes, for there had never been any matter nor form. There was existence, a state of being, and even that was not firm. He was empty, just like everything around him. All barriers crumbled, and the integrity of his own conception was being lost as he forgot all that he had known of himself and slipped into the endless dream of the void.

“Failure.”

He focused. The word cut clear in the waveless nothing where no sound could be, drilled into his soul with painful drive.

“All that time. All that knowledge. All that power. Secrets that ain’t been whispered aloud in two hundred years, nor spoken outright in two thousand. Names so mighty that whole countries was burned to ash in the fight to get them forgotten. Ye kissed the Devil on the mouth and got yer soul packed with coals from Hell’s furnace.”

Being addressed, he knew that he must be a thing that existed. That knowledge helped solidify his outline, keep the tides of limbo at bay.

“Yer strength was such as ain’t never been seen on this continent since centuries before the first white man set foot on it. A livin’ terror.

“And ye fucked it all up and got shot half to death.”

The voice of his master. It rang with contempt. Contempt gave rise to anger. He knew who he was again.

“Fuck you,” was what Richard Stane said. The act of saying made him more alive, reaffirmed his existence in a stark way. “I was kicking ass.”

“Stupid shithead. Ye had a job to do. Find Phil Warner, take him, hurt him, and bring him back to me. Ye accomplished none of that. All you done is make sure yer as hunted as can be, attractin’ all the attention a city can give. Ye wasted yer power on theatrics. Ye made a spectacle of yerself.

“And this is the part I keep comin’ back to, because ye got shot to pieces! By a chickenshit!”

Stane was aware of himself fully. Now the purity of the void allowed him to clearly see in memory, as he replayed what had gone before.

“Wasn’t him. I had him running, scared. Ready for the kill. But–“

“Another thing I wanted to call to yer attention. Ye weren’t to kill the son of a bitch. He’s mine!”

“He changed. All of a sudden, he was a different person. Cool. He moved fast. He didn’t miss.”

The master hissed, a manifestation of platonic rage transcending expression’s limits. “Branson!”

Stane felt the thin lines tethering him to his grotesque body. He shut out his teacher’s scream and focused on following the trail. Tracing his way back. Tracing back to himself.

“Branson’s with him! How? Why?”

Stane didn’t answer. He was pressed up against the veil, stretching against the membrane separating him from returning to flesh.

“Guess it doesn’t matter. We find Warner, and I can finish Branson as he always should have been done. I’ll tear his soul apart!”

Stane shoved through the veil. It hurt like being born. He came into the world naked spirit, and the sun seared him. He wriggled like a smoking worm back into the safety of his own flesh, and set to exploring the paths of his nerves, relearning the map of his physicality. Dimly he could still hear the old ghost’s voice.

“Get up, get in yer damn car, and get a move on. If Branson’s with him he’ll be running, and it’s any guess as to where. But I won’t let him escape me again!”

Stane forced all his will into his finger, and got it to twitch.

“Stop wasting time!” Haverly’s voice said, and then faded altogether. In its place, Stane began hearing sirens. Men were on the scene.

He drove all his efforts into a point, and shoved that point hard into his right hand, still grotesquely distorted. He made it find his precious case, and pluck out the fourth finger bone. Took the bone, and brought it to his shark’s mouth. The misshapen tongue tasted the shape of the name graven into it, and with saw-edged teeth he cracked it open.

Energy poured into him, and he made swift use of it. He was economical with his strength now. First step was drawing his body into its accustomed shape, and this was done as quickly as he could stand. Even with the stored magic of his fetish, resculpting flesh and bone was agonizingly painful work.

From the sounds of things, firemen and paramedics were first on the scene, and they were held busy with the shambles he’d left inside. He, laying on the ground betwixt cars as he was, hadn’t yet been noticed. As his left hand split back apart into separate fingers, he managed to bite back a scream of pain, hoping to stay unnoticed a bit longer. The police were doubtless here as well, attending to their initial business.

Done. The Driver looked like a man again. Time to move.

The power he’d cached in that dead human’s marrow provided the fuel. Three words of power provided the channel through which the power flowed. The result was a haze thrown up around him, an enforced blind spot for those who looked his way. He moved with rapid stealth to his car, where two cops were getting to work. He whispered, and the uniformed men both fell to their knees in reamplified nausea. While they were busy desecrating the remains of his victims with vomit, the Driver took the wheel, and drove like a bat out of hell, unheeding of any futile attempt at pursuit.

NaNoWriMo Day 14

Posted in Words with tags on November 15, 2011 by bradellison

With bloody teeth and white knuckles, the Driver had followed his prey’s trail all the way to this last hole. He’d found Phil Warner’s car in the parking lot, circling the big black auto pasture like a ghost shark out of a lucid nightmare. Then he lined up his shot. He set up the Jerry Lee Lewis, slammed his right foot down to the floorboard as hard as he could, and blew through the broad glass from wall of the reception area with magnificent raping force just as the first chorus of “Great Balls of Fire” really got into gear.

There was a desk, and a receptionist behind it. She was stunned rabbit-on-the-highway frozen, a second and two thirds away from beginning to scream for the rest of her life. There had been a coffee table as well, and some semi-current news magazines on top of it, but it turned out Ikea’s standards for living room furnishings wasn’t anyhow comparable to the standards for front bumpers at the height of Detroit’s glory days. It seemed there had been someone sitting in a chair by that coffee table as well, and now the chair and his legs were ground together in a mass of wet ugly flinders, and he was yelping in a way that most people would say was inhuman. You’d have to find someone who’d put in time on battlefields and in disaster areas to recognize the purely concentrated humanity in those noises.

The Driver opened the big black door and stepped out, steel-capped boots crunching on broken glass. With a short hatchet-chop application of the toe of his right boot, he silenced the noise of the unlegged man. By now, the receptionist was opening her throat and letting everything out through it. The Driver listened to her get raw, and then shut her up by flicking his knife in an underhand throw, burying it deep just below her throat, nestled in the cleft of her collarbone. Then he bent down and grabbed what was left of the man at his feet, grabbed him by the skull with a hand over either ear, and picked him up. The spine popped and the rest of his neck ripped some, but that was fine. With his left hand the Driver took short hold of this head by the hair, and with his right shoved his first two fingers and his thumb into the man’s mouth and took hold of the soul, ripping it right out and biting it in half. He swallowed it without chewing.

The receptionist was still conscious, and still screaming as best she could. The Driver crossed quickly over to her and sucked the life out of her in one slurping swallow, then jerked his knife out of the husk and let it fall wetly to the carpet.

Now that he’d established himself, he took one of the carve finger bones from its case, cracked it open with his teeth, and snorted the marrow like cocaine. When he did this, his hands, his tongue and his eyes burst into green flame.

Someone came to see what the commotion was, came through a door behind the receptionist’s desk and looked around with a look of shock overwhelming his bearded face.

The Driver forced his left hand into the shape of a knobby ivory sickle, flesh melting back and bone melting wax-like into a new configuration, smooth and quick as shucking a mitten, the ghastly reaping appendage still wreathed in green flame. He took the man’s bald head off, shearing through the neck right below the beard line. The unregulated spurt of blood from the stump, deprived of its appropriate destination, flecked the walls and ceiling. The headless body fell forward with the knees collapsing, and the Driver caught it with his right hand. He made his tongue into a long writhing proboscis, jammed it down through the corpse’s windpipe, and hoovered up the last breath in the lungs. The fingers on his right hand, the one that still had fingers, they grew longer and sharper. His arms and legs stretched. Far to the north where the Driver originally hailed from, unfortunate and desperate men in the grimmest of winters would undergo such a transition in the right circumstance, but he felt warmer and more in control than any wendigo.

He tore the door off its hinges because he fucking could, tweaking on black magic and bloody havoc. He kicked the bald man’s head with startling accuracy, launching it in a beautiful long arc that carried it entirely down the length of the hall, which seemed to stretch the full length of the building. It made quite a mess when it reached its destination, and left a trail all along the way that the Driver followed. At this point he was legitimately fucked up beyond rational thought, a full-bore killing machine with a demolished attention span. He still sort of remembered that he was here for specific person Phil Warner, but that got sidelined by the new addition to his agenda, which was ripping apart every living thing in this building and feasting on their Breath of Life.

Without any conscious thought, a fraction of the energy pouring off of him twisted its way into the PA system built into the building, sent other tendrils shooting out to wrap around every speaker on every computer in the place, every headphone, every radio. Jerry Lee Lewis was now coming from every direction.

The long-limbed shark-mouthed sickle-handed slave of Hell stepped through the doorway, moving with speed and balance that was masked by a shuddery seeming awkwardness. It had a quality of stop-motion to it, like some lizards or arachnids have when crawling across the side of a wall.

He had stepped out onto the main floor of the call center, Spread out in front of him were rows and rows of four foot tall cubicles, crewed by men and women in headsets. To his left and right were glassed-in offices, one empty and the other holding a small man who was frozen in uncut shock.

The Driver made flames burst up from under this man’s skin, for no real reason at all other than to see if he could. More power than he’d ever held before was rippling through him, burning itself quick but blazing beyond his capacity to contain. As the smell of burning flesh began to spread, he decided to similarly ignite the fire exits, since they were so helpfully labeled by illuminated signs. Doing this left him feeling suddenly drained, so he fished out a second bone, cracked it open with his shark teeth and swallowed it whole.

He was being noticed. No one seemed to have any idea about how to cope with what they were seeing, but they were all seeing it now. People were screaming, crying, praying, shouting, trying to argue loudly against the affront reality was delivering to their understanding of what reality was.

The Driver moved down one row at full speed, stopping only when he hit the wall, ripping heads and throats to either side as he passed. When he came to the end, he turned to the cubicle at his right, tore it apart and through it into the opposite cubicle facing on the next row, and went back up to the main corridor.

People were trying for the doors, but the heat was too intense, and the flames did not diminish. There was no escape, and the ax was at the root of the tree.

Phil had seen Mr. Garrett’s head sail across the room with a dent in it, and swiftly recognized that things had reached a degree of fucked up that he hadn’t even anticipated. Things were hitting a fever pitch right now, and the air was ripe with the smell of slaughter and ozone.

Run, boy, run!

He paid heed. He was moving before most of his coworkers seemed aware that something was happening. The nearest exit was just two rows over, and he was taking the most direct route, over the top. He registered something like a stretched-out scarecrow red with blood and moving like a Harryhausen acid trip, but maybe he realized just how crazy he’d go if he really thought about it, because he shut all that out and focused on the door, his back to the howling and the tearing sounds.

And now the fire door was covered in fire.

Not on fire. It wasn’t being consumed. It was wrapped in a sheet of nauseous green fire that stank of bile and burned with a tremendous heat. No escape that way.

And hey, this was bad. He was first at the door. He had provided a concrete example of someone trying to escape, and with the horror at the other end of the room, that inspired imitators. And since watching an aberrant mockery of human form rend the flesh of your coworkers like the Devil’s private butcher was something to short-circuit the faculties, none of them were thinking clear. There were a fair few of them, and they were moving like a wad of panicked hamsters, pushing towards that blazing door.

Phil felt like his skin was about to start blistering off, but he couldn’t push back against the crowd’s press. Drop! said Branson, and since he had no other ideas of any kind whatsoever, Phil dropped. He slithered on the floor trying not to get too trampled, letting some other suckers find out about the fire.

We gotta get out of here, now. Doors ain’t gonna work, how about windows?

Phil looked around trying to figure a way to the nearest window. He got distracted, though, when he saw the thing reaping its way across the room. There were at least a dozen people dead, and the spindly hell-thing kept picking them up and going for their lungs or some such, make ghastly sucking inhalations at them. These suctioning slurping noises were audible even over the omnidirectional dull roar of Jerry Lee Lewis, which was as inescapable as an earthquake.

Dammit boy, you’re pissing yourself! Wake up and run!

Phil realized that the ghost was being bluntly literal. The front of his pants were soaked, and he was slack-jawed.

His left hand spasmed, and squeezed the silver cross he suddenly realized he had in his hand. That woke him up as much as could be done.

In front of him, a young woman name Dora or Darla or something along those lines was running right at him. He had on several occasions said good morning to her by the coffee maker, and nodded politely when he passed her in the hall. She was running hard, gasping and sobbing, and looked to be preparing to shove right past Phil, but then she was laid low by a large thrown object. Phil realized it was Charlie, his boss opened up and spread apart, hurled by the thing that had done it, to soar through the air and bring down a coworker. When Phil realized that, he stopped looking at it and stopped thinking about it as quick as he could.

There were windows. Of course there were. Right on this wall. Focus on that, Phil. Focus on that. Great balls of fire.

The thing was slowing down now, sucking the dead around it dry. Phil went up to the window, but there was no way of opening it.

Do I gotta think of every damn thing?

Branson’s ghost shot a flash of inspiration into Phil’s short-circuiting brain. He grabbed a computer from under the nearest desk, ripped it loose of the wires in a desperate burst of strength, and started slamming it into the window like a ram. A few blows had cracks starting.

This ain’t the best plan ever, but it’s the one we got, so go at it hard as you can.

He was doing that, but then he noticed the thing noticing him. The banging had caught its attention.

It had a human face, once you got past the shark mouth and the long slurping tongue and the green burning eyes. Human enough, anyway, to make everything else really horrible.

Human enough to show what looked like recognition.

That’s bad.

Phil agreed. He slammed the computer all the way through the glass and out to the parking lot. He’d managed to knock a hole big enough to crawl through.

It started for him.

He dived instead of crawling.

NaNoWriMo Day 10

Posted in Words with tags , , , on November 11, 2011 by bradellison

Austin

Phil Warner woke up around dawn and took bleary inventory in the cold gray light of unforgiving morning. In driver’s seat of car. Car in HEB parking lot, HEB not immediately familiar to him Head aching. Body sore. Knuckles bloody. Throat raw. Mouth tasting like ashtray. Gun in pocket.

Well, son of a bitch.

“Ok, Branson, we’ve gotta talk.”

What have I been sayin’ this whole time?

“Screw you, man. Listen, you’re a ghost, and a wild west outlaw, and my great-something grandpa, and you used to murder guys based on their thinking slavery was wrong, and you hanged a wizard who is now after a hundred and fifty years coming to kill me somehow. I’m at the point where I think I can handle the buy-in on all of that, despite it all being profoundly nuts.”

It wasn’t about slavery for us, exactly. There were–

“Oh my God, shut up! Shut up! Your Civil War bullshit is not even the issue here! I mean, any one thing off of that jacked-up laundry list of crazy would be hard to come to grips with, you understand? And I’ve got all of it happening at once, and on top of that I’m pretty sure I’m getting fired today. I cannot handle this, and I need you to shut your damn ghost mouth while I try and think!”

He tried to think.

“Ok, so why do I smell like someone cremated the Marlboro man next to me? No, skip that. Why do I have a gun?”

Oh, that. Someone tried to rob me with it last night, and it seemed like a good idea to hold onto it.

“Ok, that’s fair. You didn’t happen to kill anybody while you were joyriding me, did you?”

No. Lawmen are the last kind of complication this thing needs.

“Ok, great! Finally some good news, because being possessed by my ghost ancestor isn’t something that’ll hold up in court. Now, fill me in on what you know about this ghost wizard thing that’s trying to kill me.”

Haverly managed to get a mouthful of my blood when we were stringing him up. I ain’t an expert, but I picked a few things up on the road, and got some new insights on this side too. Blood’s power, and it forms a link. I think maybe my bloodline still being around is the thing that’s kept him going, combined with the curse he leveled on us. I can sort of feel Haverly like ripples sent out from a stone falling in a pond. Maybe he can feel me, I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure he can feel where you are, smelling my blood in you, and I know for a fact he’s been getting closer and closer every night. He’s very close now.

“Every night?”

He’s not flesh anymore. Things of spirit, at least the ghostly things like what I think he is, they don’t do well in daylight. Burns ’em right up, like bacon grease on a skillet. No, he’s staying out of the sun. But he’s been moving fast.

“Shit. Well, wait. Ok. So that gives us at least till sunset, right? That’s good. Ok, that’s not good, this whole this is nuts, but it’s not bad.”

Listen, boy. We gotta hit the road. We need to be gone. Sun sets, we gotta be pointing at it.

“This is some heavy shit. Give me a second.”

A second went by.

“Ok, so we’re heading west. What’s west?”

My bones. My gold. My pistol.

“Awesome. That is a super-helpful answer, and I am excited about the direction my life has taken. Side question, where are we?”

I saw a sign that said 183, and another one that said McNeil. It was a little confusing, and I had to borrow some of your knowledge to handle the driving. You were out at the time.

“Yeah, about that, that is freaking me out. So we’re in here together, but it’s my body, I’m in charge. You don’t go digging in my mind, don’t shove me into yours, and you don’t try taking the wheel again, or we’re through.”

Whatever you say.

Ok, my apartment’s all the way on the other side of town. I’m due at work in a few hours, and I don’t want to drive around in a big triangle.”

Work?

“I haven’t been fired yet. And once all this blows over, it’ll be nice to have a job to come back to.”

Maybe I ain’t been clear enough. There ain’t any blowin’ over here. This is bloody war to the hilt with the dead.

“Screw that. Besides, if I’m getting the hell out of Dodge, there’s something at my desk I want.”

Your funeral.

“Yeah well, you had your turn already.”

Austin

The Driver was clean now, as far as his skin and hair went. It had taken gallons of red water going down the drain, and the ruining of every ivory-colored towel in the motel room, but it was done. For the rest, it seemed unlikely that he would ever again be made clean.

His eyes were changed. The pupils seemed dilated out to the whites, which seemed tarnished or dulled. The effect was not unlike two ball bearings with big black holes drilled in them. His teeth were longer and sharper than they had been. He had something like a strand of gristle between two of them, in the back.

He dressed himself in sumptuous black, like Johnny Cash at a funeral, and carefully arranged his hair into something aggressive, like the ram at the prow of a trireme or the snout of a great white. He pulled on snakeskin boots with sharply pointed toes, slid into his gleaming leather jacket and walked out of the room, leaving the door standing open as he went.

There wasn’t any going back. Not now, nor never. All he’d learned and done in the years leading up to this moment, it had been capped.

He had the thing he wanted.

He had two boxes in the passenger seat of the gleaming black Cadillac. One was the black casque that held the old ghost. The other was a slim oblong case of polished wood that looked suitable for holding a gentleman’s cigars. The Driver slid this case into the interior pocket of his jacket.

The case contained six polished fingerbones, taken from the longest joint of the longest finger of the left hand. Each bone had a name etched into it in a this Phoenician script.

“Well,” he said, taking an unfiltered Lucky Strike in his lips and igniting it with the dashboard lighter, “let’s get going. Where to first?”

To the den, said the voice from the black box.

The Louvin Brothers were conjured from the speakers, wailing their warning that Satan was real. The Driver chuckled, finally worked that bit of gristle loose from his teeth, and put the pedal to the floor. The music boomed out loud as could be, providing fair warning to anyone in earshot.

Austin

Phil Warner looked and kind of smelled like someone who’d been drinking and smoking and fighting all night, but by God he was at work half an hour early.

Breakfast had been had. The car had been filled with gasoline. He had obtained supplies for traveling. He would now go into the office, get what he needed from his desk, and see if he could claim some sick leave on short notice.

This wasn’t likely. But he was here anyway, so what the hell.

His wrinkled T-shirt didn’t attract too much attention. The tousled hair and five day beard drew a little. The smell come off him drew more.

“How many cigarettes did you smoke?” he muttered as he walked down the hall ignoring the looks people gave him.

All there was. Been a long damn time. Now shut up and focus.

Phil turned down the row of workstations that was his, and stopped at his desk. It wasn’t generally considered wise to leave valuables or anything out on your desk, though he figured his Yoda bobblehead didn’t count. But there was one thing, and he wanted that handy every day, so he kept it locked in his drawer when he was gone.

He fished out his desk key, sat down in his chair, and turned the lock. The drawer held one legal pad, two half-used packs of Post-It notes, three ballpoints, a Sharpie, some random paperclips, and the small silver cross she’d given him.

That’s what we’re wasting time for?

“Shut up,” Phil said low as he took it by the thin silver chain and drew it out. “you got shot to death for being stupid, so why should I care what you think?”

Because I got the chance to learn from making the kind of mistakes that get you shot to death.

Phil didn’t have an answer for that.

The cross was a simple thing, a slimly delineated Celtic cross, two straight lines intersecting through a circle. Not fancy. Not expensive. He had to know it was there, and look at it in the roughest times. The metal wasn’t of much significance, but there was a weight to it from the remembrance of things past.

Holding it in his hand, it was like he could hear her voice again. Not like it had been that last time, but in the best days. Feel her hand in his, warm.

Those were good days, far away from here and now. He shed half a tear for them without knowing it.

Charlie came up behind him. His damn notepad was in his hand, and he was frowning. Phil cut him off at the pass.

“Hey boss, I was wanting to talk to you.”

“Oh, uh, yes?”

“Listen, I’m sorry I’ve been slipping. And I really apologize for flying off the handle yesterday. I was way out of line, I realize that. I’m pretty sure I’ve come down with something.”

“Hm, well, yeah you don’t look at all well, Phil.”

“I know it. I’m starting to thing whatever it is is contagious. Listen, I really think it’d be best if I were out sick today.”

Charlie blinked. “I, uh, see.”

“I really think some sick time would help me get my feet back under me, get me back into a place were I can do my best work. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.”

“Um, Phil, listen, I believe you’re running out of available medical leave. I don’t think we can really authorize-“

“I really think it would be best for the team if I weren’t around today. In fact, you might want to drink some Emergen-C or something, just talking to me like this.

I cannot believe you’re still having this conversation with this little man. You’re degrading yourself and wasting time.

“Phil, listen, I think it would, uh, be best if you were to go home. But as far as coming back-“

That was the point when the sound of something large and solid like the front end of a vintage Cadillac crashing through the large front window of the reception area crashed through the building, initiating a loud commotion at the entrance of the building.

Oh, shit. We gotta run!

“What in the hell?” asked Charlie.

Phil shoved past Charlie and headed for the hall.

Then the severed head went sailing down the corridor like a football, and all hell really broke loose.