Memento Mori: Ten – Wake Up The Dead

Alone With the Dead:
Memento Mori
by Andrea Speed

Ten – Wake Up The Dead

Clay did have an answer, as he expected, and he told Shane and Clay he wanted to go there tomorrow. He was lying, of course, but they weren’t to know that.

After he got all the information he needed, he asked to be taken back to his motel, as he claimed to be completely shagged out after the whole Laurel Stanhope thing, and subsequent interrogation. No one disbelieved him; the pity was almost palpable.

8.jpgBut of course it was a crock of shit. He went back to his room to have a piss, and dig out the money he had hidden in his duffle bag before heading out to the Buick. You can’t possibly be serious, Mr. Aronofsky insisted.

“Would you stop saying that? I am. I’m not waiting for this fucktard to catch me unaware. I’m gonna load up, and greet him with as many angry dead guys as I can find.”

And sacrifice yourself in the process? That’s not the best plan.

I ain’t sharin’ room with a bunch more idiots, Taneesha snapped. There’s too damn many already.

You better not be callin’ me an idiot, Sylvio replied.

“Just knock it off,” he warned, climbing into his car. “For fuck’s sake, can’t you just trust me to know what I’m doing for once?”

What are you doing? Hugh wondered.

He slammed the door, and sighed, wondering how he always ended up in this position. “I have no idea.”

It is so easy to argue with you, Hugh said, clearly enjoying himself way too much. You generally defeat yourself.

“If you had my life, you would too.” He wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but it sounded good. In a way.

The first stop was a cyber-café, to get driving directions to the place Clay told him about. It wasn’t hard to find; a random Google search turned it up on several pages devoted to the supernatural and “hauntings”. Apparently, in those circles, it was fairly notorious, and used as a classic example of proving that ghosts were real. Supposedly; an astonishing number of people weren’t convinced.

Next, he hit the nearest liquor store, and bought a bottle of Captain Morgan’s and a bottle of Absolut, then returned to the car and retrieved his thermos.

Oh no, Ruby exclaimed. Kid, you’ve got to be kidding.

“The only way I can do this is if I get really lubed up,” he admitted, filling up half the thermos with rum. He then filled up the other half with vodka, put the lid on tight, and shook it up, so the alcohol would blend, or at the very least, mingle. “And I have to get drunk fast.”

You will be driving the porcelain bus for days, Hugh said. Possibly weeks. You’ll probably be hospitalized for dehydration again. It’ll come shooting out both ends.

Jeeze, thanks for the imagery, Sylvio sniped.

“I have to be alive to be sick.” He took the lid off, and took a couple of generous swallows of the drink he had mentally dubbed ‘Last Wish’. It tasted just like rum, as the vodka really had no taste he could discern, but this hit him twice as hard, and it burned his throat while going down. He had no idea what drinking gasoline was like, but he bet this was close. Soon his stomach started to churn, and he was reminded it’d been a long time since he ate.

Stop it now, Mr. Aronofsky ordered. You can’t drive this way.

“I’m not buzzed yet.” But he was starting to feel a little woozy; not like when he was really feverish, but different. He couldn’t say how, but then again, he wasn’t sure he had any communication skills at all right now.

He started driving, thermos of Last Wish jammed between his knees, and stopped for gas at a station that advertised that it had pizza available. What the hell kind of person bought and ate a pizza from a Gas ‘n’ Gulp? That was just asking for explosive diarrhea.

He did go in to the tiny store, where a very bored clerk was watching Letterman on a portable t.v., and gave it a healthy smack as he walked past. He wondered if he could fuck up a person’s reception on purpose, and part of him was dying to try, but he supposed that was the booze talking. So he just bought a pre-made deli sandwich – turkey and Swiss; how could you go wrong there? – and loaded it up with mustard from the condiment counter before retuning to the clerk and dumping some cash on the main counter. (Counting was for the sober.)

The man took it and made change, without once looking at him, and paused several times to give the t.v. a good whap. Gryphon knew it was his fault, and tried very hard not to laugh, but it was difficult. As soon as he was back outside, he started laughing, and he really had no idea why. It just seemed funny.

He sat in his car and laughed for a while, then started to wolf down the sandwich, which had no taste beyond mustard, but he liked mustard so he considered that good. Driving the bus, Hugh reminded him. For days and days and days.

“You can’t possibly harsh my buzz,” he told him, with a mouthful of mustardy bread. Honestly, it could be cardboard, and he’d probably still enjoy it., as long as it tasted like mustard. “Because my buzz is bulletproof.”

How the hell are you gettin’ more crazy? Taneesha asked, You were already as nutty as a pecan log to begin with.

This too made him laugh. He figured if he just added diet Pepsi or pineapple juice to his rum and vodka mixture, he’d have a killer new party drink. Last Wish just wasn’t a good enough name, though. Porcelain Bus? Now that had some promise.

He took another good couple of swallows of his drink (Gasoline Splash? Diesel Kiss? Technicolor Yawn? ) to wash down the sandwich before driving off to his destination. He thought he drove remarkably well considering how smashed he was, but he was still glad he encountered very few people along the way. Open streets and subdivisions gave way to increasing scrub lands and trees, dark barriers that made the stars brighter by comparison.

The place was actually relatively close to the coast; close enough that he couldn’t see it, but he could smell it, the air carrying just a hint of a salty tang when it blew in from the right direction.

It was surrounded by a beaten down chain link fence, with “Condemned” and “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted” signs hanging from it, but considering its isolated location, it was a surprise that it wasn’t vandalized further. Or maybe it wasn’t.

As he walked up to the fence, he could feel the malice bleeding from the place, like it was an open wound of bad intentions. There were dead here all right, and absolutely none of them were happy. They were as dead as hell, and they weren’t going to take living shit anymore.

The building was really a shell, crouching in the moonlight like a malevolent stalker, its broken door a gaping mouth frozen in a scream. He took three generous swallows of rum and vodka, finishing this round, before capping the thermos and setting it on the hood of the car. If he drank any more he’d probably pass out, and while that sounded fun, he really couldn’t do it just yet.

You really shouldn’t go in there, Hugh insisted.

“I gotta. I’ve come this far, might as well go all the way.” He told himself this lame motto was his battle cry as he stepped forward , and slipped through a rip in the fence, the jagged chain link plucking at his clothes and scraping at his skin like skeletal fingers. He stumbled through, and managed not to tear too many things.

The intensity of the hate seemed to ratchet up for every foot closer he got, and he noticed, for the very first time, that the grass was all dead; not even weeds were growing here, except near the fence, where scraggly dandelions and crab grass struggled to eke out an existence. Here, inside the perimeter, nearer to the home, there was nothing but gray soil and rocks. He didn’t think it was “evil” or “bad vibes”, just general fallout from what used to be here.

This place used to be the Serenity Acres Sanitarium, a “rest home” for the “feeble minded” at the turn of the century – in other words, an insane asylum. And not just any old insane asylum, but one that proclaimed to have the most “modern medicines”, which often translated to shock treatments, trepanation (drilling a hole in the skull to “relieve pressure on the brain” – or, considering this was a “pioneering” mental health facility, perhaps let the demons out), exposure to temperature extremes, and various other things that would be considered against the Geneva Convention if done now.

It burned down in the early 1900’s; it was blamed on a “patient”, then blamed on an accident, but either way, a lot of people died, mainly patients, as the grounds were curiously bare of personnel when the place went up like flash paper. Some died of smoke inhalation, but many burned to death, trapped in their rooms, medicated or tied down to their beds. There were quite a few dead bodies found on the premises that had been dead before the fire, patients who didn’t survive their “state-of-the-art treatments”. Ironically, no one was ever prosecuted for anything; most of the patients were indigent, or had been abandoned by their families, so no one cared if they were alive or dead, and in those days, they had no idea what to do with the supposedly insane.

There wasn’t much left of the sanitarium to raze, so about ten years after the tragedy, someone bought the land with the intention of building a pulp mill on the lot, but after attempting to build on it for four days, the construction crew walked out en masse, and refused to return. They said that “things” had happened, tools had been mysteriously thrown at their heads, and boards had fallen, nearly decapitating a foreman; they also complained they felt they were being stared at, and couldn’t shake a general sense of anger. No one wanted to return, and several other people were hired, but basically abandoned the project in about a week; for some reason, that was the exact amount of time when people decided they honestly couldn’t take it anymore.

The property switched hands several times, with no one quite able to do what they wanted to do with it, starting the “haunted” rumors, although variations of that was the land was “cursed”. In the ‘40’s, a priest was brought in by the current landowner to “exorcise” the area. After the priest had done his whole spiel, and everybody was returning to their vehicles, the priest’s car started by itself, slipped into gear, and plowed right into him, running him over and taking out part of the fence. He survived, but was paralyzed. It was believed to be a bizarre “accident”, caused by a mechanical defect, but in ghost circles it was generally believed that the dead really didn’t appreciate being called demons. Again the land was sold, and again changed hands, several times in succession.

In 1974, some entrepreneur decided to build a “spiritual retreat”, to cash in on one ‘70’s fad or another, and that’s when the grounds recorded its first death outside of the fire. The construction crew got farther than anyone else, putting together the shell of this now dilapidated structure, but one day a bucket fell from a scaffolding and nailed the new owner right on top of the head, killing him instantly. It was ruled an accident, blamed on “high winds”, but the family let the property rot, not even trying to develop it, and tried to unload it several times. This time they were unable to find anyone who would buy it, as now the place was notorious. Eventually they did sell it to a self-professed “spiritualist”, who claimed he could contact the “restless spirits” of Serenity Acres. Not only did he apparently fail, but he went missing shortly afterwards, and was eventually found floating off the coast of Oregon, an “apparent” suicide. It was unclear what had happened to the property since then – some rumors had it as state property – but no one had officially owned it or set foot on it since ‘86.

There was some quality irony in the fact that a place known as Serenity Acres was one of the most violently haunted places on the entire West Coast.

Gryphon held his arms open, and shouted, “Bring out your dead!” He then doubled over laughing, as it was probably one of the funniest damn things he’d ever heard.

I’m taking over, Ruby threatened.

“No, no, I hafta do this,” he said, taking a deep breath and getting a hold of himself. Why was it so funny? He couldn’t even remember anymore. “These might be your people, but I’m the interpreter. Before we all get snug, they can only talk to me.”

You’re too wasted to do any good, kid, Ruby continued. And believe me, I should know.

“Trust me. I know what I’m doin’.”

You said that earlier, and you were lying.

“Yeah, well …” he just petered off, as he had no further rebuttal.

The door, broken or not, seemed to loom larger as he staggered onward, a mouth slowly opening, preparing to swallow him whole. Luckily he was so drunk he felt indestructible, fearless, and he knew that was exactly what he needed to go through with this. He shoved it all the way open, letting it dangle on its one remaining hinge, and went inside.

There wasn’t anything to see inside, it was an abandoned husk of a building frame, with temporary walls and a thin, bare floor, not even marred by mouse or bird poop, as animals were smarter than people, and just stayed the fuck away from here.

But he only saw that for a moment.

The bare room, illuminated only by moonlight, was suddenly replaced by a crowded room with white washed walls and potted plants, a common room where sunlight streamed in from windows in the ceiling, far out of reach of the patients. They surrounded him, maybe two dozens, mostly wearing the shapeless white gowns that rendered the wearers strangely sexless and shapeless, while their eyes seemed too wide and too dark in all their faces. Some at the far edge of the crowd wore straightjackets, probably the gear they died in, or had shaved heads bearing scars and marks from various treatments.

Rage seemed to come off them in waves, inchoate and incoherent, a random hatred of the world of the living and everything in it. “Living,” the nearest one growled at him, making it sound like a curse. “You don’t belong here.”

“But I’m not, not really,” he explained, feeling disappointingly sober. Well, sober-er. “I’m a … oh fuck, I dunno, agent.”

They didn’t know what that was, or they didn’t care. They closed in on him, like this was a gang bang and he had been selected as the fuck towel, and he felt more sober by the second. Maybe he hadn’t thought this out. They were dead, all right, but some of them had been tortured, others were genuinely mentally ill, and all had had pretty violent experiences even before their own violent deaths. He had dealt with dead like that separately, but never in a group. “He’s coming.”

That made them stop in their tracks. Gryphon didn’t even know why he had said that, but he had to say something. Lucky for him, it was the right thing. They looked to each other as if seeking answers, but no one seemed to have one. “He?” The presumed leader asked. He had a scar bisecting his upper lip, and a nose that had been broken and badly reset, leaving it a flat, mangled thing in the center of his face.

“Yeah. You wanna kick his ass? Then you gotta help me do it.”

More murmuring, the sound of wind through dry grass. Then the leader – his name had been Bernard, but everybody called him Buzz – looked at him with his hard, dark eyes, and asked, “How?”

That was probably as close to an agreement that he was ever going to get.

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