Friday, November 10, 2017

An Unpleasant Guest

An Unpleasant Guest
by
Bobby Derie


Mooney was on duty in the lobby when the call came in from the concierge at the desk. The lobby of the Goodman Hotel was a short hall in black marble, white tile, and dark wood, inlaid with traceries of brass in an Art Deco style that partook of a certain Gothic trend; lots of fluting and sharp edges, stylized human figures that devolved into leering gargoyles that concealed light sconces, so that they were backlit. The walls narrowed slightly as they approached the desk, making the lobby look a bit longer than it was, and, coincidentally, meaning that there was space near the entrance for a black leather chair, so that Mooney had a good view of those guests arriving before they saw him. It was his favored spot for tracking escorts as they came and went, but he stood immediately when the concierge put down the phone and nodded at him.


The house detective stood six inches under six feet, and had learned only a single rule of fashion: everything goes with black. His black three-piece suit was matched with a black collared shirt and a thin black tie, drawing attention to his pale hands and face, red-brown hair shaved down almost to the skin in a military-style buzzcut. Mooney walked with purpose to the counter, where the concierge held out the rectangular plastic card that passed for a key these days.


"Fourteenth-oh-twelve," she—no, Mooney corrected himself, he, because the concierge was transitioning—said. "Again." the concierge added, brown eyes wide.


"Mister Ranevy is proving a most unpleasant guest." Mooney remarked. "Third time, isn't it?"


"Yes, Mr. Mooney."


"And how much longer is he staying?"


"Booked through the 16th."


"The full moon." Mooney clucked his tongue. "Paid in advance?"


"Yes sir."


Mooney smiled, then rounded the desk towards the elevators, taking the turn slowly. The hallways in the hotel were generally angled so you couldn't see around the corners—sometimes couldn't see the corners, until you were close on them—and Mooney knew how easy it was to bump into people if you weren't careful. Stepping in to the carpeted box, Mooney caught his reflection in the mirror-polished brass walls for a moment. Then he turned around, facing the doors, and carefully tapped the rectangular ivory button—reclaimed from an old piano, he knew—next to 12. The concierge gave his tight-lipped little smile as the doors closed on Mooney.


On a plaque about the buttons was the brief legend of the hotel; built on Goodman's Lot, the only patch of real estate that the Colonists hadn't wanted or dared to cut down or build over. Mooney's own researches had suggested there were some other issues with the building site, and certain incidents during construction, so that there were almost certainly a body buried beneath each corner of the foundation; that was long before his time as the house detective, but his position afforded him access to certain files which even management and the current owners probably were ignorant of. Suffice it to say, it was the sort of place that attracted the occasional unusual guest at a higher rate than others. Management took that in stride; all old buildings have their quirks.


The rooms on this floor began their numbering with zero-zero-zero—Mooney's office, when he wasn't holding down the lobby—and oh-twelve was one of the suites. He knocked on the door for politeness sake, then checked his watch and swiped the card; the lock clicked open with a pale glimmer of a green LED, and he turned the brass knob and opened, but did not immediately enter.


14012 was dark—not simply because the lights were off, but because the heavy velvet curtains had been drawn across the windows and tied tight by the sashes. The suite included three rooms, plus the bath and a walk-in closet; Mooney had long-since memorized the layout and could probably navigate it with his eyes closed, but waited a moment. From the direction of the largest room, a piece of shadow detached itself from the rest and strode forward. Mr. Ranevy was a head and a half taller than Mooney, dark of complexion but not tanned, and bare-chested, the dense hair nearly covering his arms and chest in a thick mat, like the old photos of those very special people from circus sideshows.


Mooney caught his eye. "Good morning, sir. I am the hotel detective. I am afraid we've had a complaint regarding your suite. Would you mind if I came in for a moment to talk with you privately?"


"Enter freely, and of your own will." Ranevy said, a trace of one a North Umbrian accent in his speech—one that those who knew little of such things might have thought Scottish, before they learned better.


"Very droll, sir." Mooney smiled as he stepped inside; the door shut behind him swiftly, and they were in darkness.


"Shall I turn on the light?" Ranevy said. Mooney turned to face the voice, senses on edge. There were familiar smells in this suite—blood, raw meat starting to turn, and the fake strawberry scent of the lubricant discreetly sold in the hotel pharmacy, which was little more than a dispensary for pills and prophylactics.


"Some things are better if I don't see them, sir." Mooney said. "Regarding which, I must say regretfully say that there is an issue with your stay. While it is not the policy of the Goodman to interfere with our guests, and to respect their privacy, there has been a question from management about the...occupancy limit of your suite."


Mooney could not hear Ranevy breathe, but a certain tension seemed to rise.


"There is no one else here." Ranevy declared.


"Security cameras, sir. In the hallways, the elevators, the stairwells, the bar and the dining room. You have brought three people—known to us and the local police as escorts—into your suite over the last three nights. And they have not left."


Mooney felt Ranevy smile, and quietly took a few steps into the main room, laying a reassuring hand on the heavy felt drapes. "You are hear to arrest me?" the voice came from behind him.


"No, sir. I am a house detective. I am not a member of the police, and I do not have powers of arrest. Nor, for that matter, am I here to help resolve issues that the guests might have regarding lost or stolen items. I am employed to protect the hotel."


"Is that a threat?" Ranevy's voice was directly behind him.


"It need not be, sir. Provided that there is no particular issue that threatens the interests of the hotel or its reputation."


"I think you have no power or authority here, detective. I have paid for this room, and I know the laws: you cannot evict me. What I do here is my affair. Go, and tell that to your management."


Mooney closed his eyes and ripped back the sash on the curtain, stepping away. Sunlight, bright and warm, flooded through half the room. Ranevy did not even have time to scream, falling backwards, stricken by the light. The house dick kept to the shadows as the light did it's work. The bare chest seemed to go translucent as it soaked up the pulsing rays, then began to quietly smolder from within. Pockets of flesh between the ribs fell in, revealing glowing coals like a cigarette. Moonlight, Mooney knew, rejuvenated some of them; and moonlight was only reflected sunlight. Too much was like an overdose...


He waited until most of the surface flesh was reduced to gray ash, which began to float upwards on drafts of warm air from the still glowing bones. Then he carefully lifted a lamp from the table, unplugged it, and began using the heavy base to pulp the dry, gray bones until nothing left resembled a human. The teeth he picked out with a handkerchief and stuck in his pockets. A few more minutes with the Goodman's particular version of Gideon's—a curious affair that was bound in real dark green leather, and which contained a special appendix with red-dyed pages covering several useful formulae—settled the most pressing matter. Then Mooney began a systematic search of the suite.


What was left of the escorts were on the bed, in no shape to leave under their own power, but alive. Mooney picked up the phone and dialed the front desk.


"This is Mooney in Fourteen-oh-Twelve. Mr. Ranevy is checking out. He has left a bit of a mess in the suite, and has left some luggage behind, as well as a few companions that are the worse for wear. Send up a few wheelchairs, and we'll get take them down the freight to the loading dock: call a few cabs to get them home. When that's done, have the bellboy fetch the luggage downstairs, and tell room service to tidy up." He paused, and stared at the state of the suite. "Charge the damages to Mr. Ranevy's credit card. I'll take some pictures, just in case, but I doubt they will be disputed."


###

Friday, November 3, 2017

Goatcat

Goatcat
by
Bobby Derie

Farul was a goatherd. At times, she met with the shepherds; they would invite her to sit and eat with them, sharing bread and cheese, kumis and cold coffee, tobacco and gossip. One warm summer evening, they got to talking about their dogs - for every shepherd in the village had at least one sheepdog.

"Farul, my friend," said Shabash, "do you have a dog for your goats?"

"No," said Farul. "You cannot heard goats with a dog. The dogs cannot climb the mountains or trees like the goat, and the billies are likely to turn and gouge with their horns if pressed. No, I have a cat."

That drew a small laugh from the women and men, but Shabash asked: "I have never seen you with a cat."

Farul shook her head and sipped her kumis. "The goatcat does not stay with the herd. She stalks in the tall grass, or on the ledges above the path, her eyes watching everything. The goats know this, they feel that gaze upon them, and so stay together. Like all cats, she is not a pet, exactly; she is a working animal, some generations removed from the wild cats that strangle the kids and rip and tear the bellies out of wild goats. The teeth and claws that can chase a goat anywhere, to corner them in a tree or up a mountain, to outrun them as they go into the valley, the devil that takes the hindmost." She sipped again. "Would you like to see her?"

The shepherds had gone quiet as Farul had spoken, for this was a lore they had never known. All eyes turned to Shabash as he nodded. Farul let out a cry - or maybe a low hiss ending in a yelp. A piece of the evening detached itself from the grass and stalked toward the shepherds.

It was taller at the shoulder, longer and heavier than a housecat - and striped, dark brown on black coat, fading lighter toward the tip. Farul reached into a pouch at her waist, palmed something pink and wet, and tossed it toward the goatcat, who rose up on its rear paws to catch it. The teeth flashed and bit into the meat, then slipped back into the tall grass.

"What did you feed it?" Shabash asked.

"Goat meat, of course." Farul replied. "They have to get a taste for it."

###

Friday, October 27, 2017

In the Night

In the Night
by
Bobby Derie

The Night City slept during the long, bright day. Above their heads, the day people moved on the burning streets, and slid through wet gardens where water the heat of blood splashed against ankle and calf. Their laughter and tears and rage came down to the night people and worked into their dreams.

In the summer, the sun was a long time dying. The early risers sat guard, eyes burned from too many peeks as the twilight came on. In the gloaming the Night City awoke. Multi-colored lanterns were lit as the stalls unfolded, and the drains gurgled as they discharged their sleepers. The day people locked their doors to the sounds of the Night City, the heat of the day draining from the streets beneath the tread of those who dwell beneath.

All save for the adventurous few, the foolish, the mad, and the unfortunate. Here a husband who quarreled with his wife, locked out, wanders into the Red Market; there a woman has drunk too much, has stumbled into an alley for a piss, and a dweller seeps up from the sewer to try out its new home. A prince with sword drawn watches the nightly consecration of the temple, and shudders at the Queen who rules by night.

In the night, a day child hugs the shadow that was once their brother; they have only this time together, in the twilight of dawn and dusk. Until one day she too goes down into the Night City, to sleep away the burning time, until it is their time once again.

###


Friday, October 20, 2017

After Mass

After Mass
by
Bobby Derie

Their was coffee and cigarettes in the fellowship hall. It reminded Mary eerily of a high-school cafeteria. A few of the newcomers sobbed, overcome by it all; and one or two old women comforted the those who looked fit to feint. She avoided it, happy to deal with clean-up and aftercare of the chapel.

The black candles were capped, smoking gently until they went out. The reverend took care of the altar, carrying the nude girl back into the couch in his office to recover, along with the Book. Mary and Elsbeth cleaned out the chalice and locked it away, along with the candlesticks, the dagger, and other implements.

The altar cloth was due for a wash - the Catholics didn't know how easy they had it with whites - so she carefully folded it up for the laundry. Elsbeth counted the collection, entered it into the account-book, and carefully filled out the deposit slip and sealed the envelope to take it to the bank.

There was the usual detritus of service to pick up - the kind of thing any crowd leaves behind. Pencil stubs, used tissues. This had been a High Mass, so today Mary had on her heavy gloves as she picked up used condoms, discarded clothing, spent blunts, the occasional pipe or needle, and a patch of bloody skin.

Once all the heavy solid materials were out of the way, she got out the hose. You had to pick them up, or they would clog the drain. She hummed an antihymn to herself as she sprayed away the blood and semen, watching them swirl together and gurgle away.

Elsbeth helped her dust the idol, and they shared a little kiss, swapping spit before polishing the inverted cross.

###

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dwarf Forest

Dwarf Forest
by
Bobby Derie

The sidewalk gave out before the dwarf forest. Stone slabs just stopped, the last half-buried in small mounds of green moss. A trail led on through the stunted trees. Fifty-year-old redwoods barely the height of a man. A tall person might look out over the canopy like an evergreen corn maze.

After the trees came the sacrifice. Six steps on the path would find the wanderer slapping at flies. Small black flies that left bright red stains when crushed. They swarmed around the trees. Lizards played amid the branches. Fat and thin, dark and horned. Pink tongues flicking out. Crests inflating when it was time to mate. Jerky leaps from branch to branch, unseen but heard.

Farther in were toads, snakes, and snails. No mice or shrews, no birds for long. The lizards and snakes ate the eggs. Squirrels and hawks were your dirty secret. Invaders from a different world. The dwarf fortress was not a place for mammals. Children, or those adults that dared to descend to their knees and crawl, knew the secret.

Foul-smelling mushrooms lay among the needles and fallen bark. Liver-colored blobs that smelled of rotten meat, swarming with black winged bodies. Iridescent trails left over everything gave a fairie-tale look. The snails and slugs were fat and happy. Hidden from most predators. Serpents looped and lazed where trees had fallen, absorbing shafts of sunlight.

The path looped and twisted. No deer-path. Too broad for the scale of the forest. The trees grew together overhead. Even children had to crawl. Looping around and around, toward the center. Glacial rocks, grey and irregular, grew more frequent. Miniature boulders. Slug trails over scratches in the lichen-covered stone. Traced vague figures in the broken rock. Petroglyphs long faded, half effaced. Spirals on spirals.

Fire burns through every fifty years or so. A spark on the dry needles, a cataclysm of lightning from the sky. The toads bury themselves, the snakes and lizards swarm out in all directions. The forest can burn for days. Dark brown seeds pop in the heat, send forth thin grey roots into the ashen soil. Stark embers pointed to the sky like a field of stakes, as the green shoots come up again.

More people can walk the path, after the burning. Some of the little stones are glassy, as though fired by a greater heat. Funny thing, the locals at Corn Rock say. The lightning always hits the center of the dwarf forest, when it comes. Maybe once a century.

###

Friday, October 6, 2017

Indian Trail

Indian Trail
by
Bobby Derie

When the first settlers came to Corn Rock, there was a native living there. Not by the Rock itself, but about a mile away, though the land was so flat he could see it clear from his house. Every day he would walk before the sun, and walk in a straight line from the door of his house to the Rock. The passing of his moccasins over the years hardened the earth, and made a straight path between the standing grass.

The settlers, when they came, didn't exactly buy the land off of him; he said it wasn't his. He was old then, his hair grey-going-to-white and his face lined, back stooped with years, and he planted beans and squash and corn in a little field back behind the house, and hunted some. They called him Corn Wolf, and he asked only to be left to his place. So they did. They set up houses and stores on that path, and that became Indian Trail.

By and by, Corn Wolf died; though stories differ on the why and how. The Corn Rock ceased to be the anchor of Indian Trail, because they put a house up at one end, and the Rock was in the field in the back. Corn Wolf's house was torn down to make way for the first post office. Then there was not much there to say that there had ever been a Corn Wolf. Only the legend.

###

Friday, September 29, 2017

Van Helsing's Gun

Van Helsing's Gun
by
Bobby Derie


It ain't easy to draw on a vampire. The pants-shitting surge of adrenaline helps, and eyes wide in the dark to catch any flutter of movement, but there isn't much room to clear your gun in a crypt, and less time to do it in. A clear street at high noon, with twenty paces, is hard enough for most folks.


To her credit, Maggie Hunter had managed to at least clear the gun from the wide leather holster on her left hip before the nosferatu caught her by wrist and throat. Strong, slim, cold hands gripped her tight and twisted. Maggie gritted her teeth until she felt the bones in her wrist grate against each other, and the big pistol fell from her nerveless hand. She had time to spit half a damn before she felt herself tossed against the back wall, hard enough to knock the wind from her.


The vampire stooped down and picked up the gun. It was Maggie's first real sight of her, limned in the open doorway. A few inches short of six feet, grey hair cut short and drawn back in a man's cut. They'd buried her in a slim, tailored suit, breasts bound tight so there was barely a rise in the chest at all, the face old but the skin still tight, except for the little wrinkles around eyes and mouth that must have made her smile warm and bright in life. No jewelry, no make-up to add color to the well-manicured fingers and cold, fishy lips. The nails gleamed as they turned the pistol over and over, then cocked the hammer.


"Van Helsing's gun," the nosferatu said. The voice was cracked, as though from long disuse. "There's a poetry in this, don't you think?" she added, as she pointed the double barrels at Maggie.


Hunter breathed shallowly through her mouth, the dust in the air was driving her nostrils crazy. Her wrist throbbed, still painful, as she stared down the twin black abysses of the pistol, imaging she could almost see the .577 calibre silver slugs.


It was a howdah pistol, that Van Helsing had picked up ghost only knows where in his travels. At it's heart, it was a cut-down .577 Snider rifle, with a custom stock fitted. Maggie had pried the damned thing from Hellsing's own crypt, three nights back. Muttered apologies as she peeled away the skeletal fingers that gripped it, then almost broke the poor bastard's spine getting out the leather belt with its special holster and the sling of silver bullets. It had taken a day to clean it, make sure the action worked. Fresh black powder packed in. She hadn't fired it though - didn't want to waste the silver.


"If you're going to do it, go on and do it." Maggie spat, trying to clear some of the tomb-dust from her mouth. "It's a better way to go than anything else I'd get from you."


"Yessss..." the vampire's face drew up into a smile, all those shadowed laugh-lines spread out and deepened. "Quick. I'll do you that favor."


A flash and roar. A clatter and a scream.


After-images burned in Maggie's eye, her night vision ruined. At the entrance to the crypt, the vampire had collapsed. The right hand - the one that had held the pistol - was just gone. Everywhere on her face and chest were bursts of white flame where bits of silver shrapnel had embedded into her cold flesh, ripping through the thin cloth of the suit, which smoldered away in rings like dying celluloid. Gray flesh blackened and fell away in curling strips; one entire eye was a glowing mass of metal that sank quickly through her skull, which began to quietly collapse in on itself into a dark grey dust.


On the floor where she had dropped it was what was left of Van Helsing's gun; the breech almost cartoonishly cracked and twisted where it had ruptured. Modern powder, Maggie mused, was perhaps a bit too strong for the old gun.


###