Memento Mori: Twelve – Dead By Dawn

Alone With the Dead:
Memento Mori
by Andrea Speed

Twelve – Dead By Dawn

It was always odd to be in the back seat of his own mind, watching as others took him over and made his body do things he never commanded it to do, but in this case he was glad.

Hugh would probably think he was a big old pussy, but he hated fire; he especially hated when there was a lot of it where it shouldn’t be. Being surrounded by it was enough to bring on a panic attack … if his body was responding to him. Right now, it wasn’t.

13.jpgRight now, he could see Louis looking around in abject shock as the fire licked up the walls, spreading like a living stain, clinging to the ceiling as if in violation of physics, but perhaps the most shocking thing to Louis was that he wasn’t responsible for this. God got himself served.

The patients were in such an angry rush to take him over that Gryphon wasn’t sure who had won the mystical tug of war; it didn’t help that he hardly knew these people, that they had become one large and vaguely psychotic blur. The one controlling him now was especially angry; his thoughts were like razor blades scraping the inside of his cranium, and maybe he wasn’t used to having vocal cords after all this time, because he seemed to be making this low keening noise in the back of his throat. As Louis turned back towards him, Gryphon felt his body lunge as the ghost controlling him jumped for Louis, grabbing him by the throat and throwing him bodily straight though the door. The door seemed to explode on impact, as if it had been waiting all this time to shatter.

The man in control of him now seemed to lumber, to walk in an odd and rolling gate, like he was trying to keep his thighs from rubbing together, and he had no fear of the flames at all. And why would he? He’d been dead for ages; nothing could hurt him anymore.

Louis was laying flat out on the dead ground, coughing and bleeding from a few splinters of old wood driven through his skin, and Gryphon felt himself go up to him, growling now, beyond the complexities of speech. Maybe this man couldn’t talk, even when he was alive. He motioned upwards, and Louis was suddenly hoisted off his feet, held up by invisible strands, but not for long.

Louis slapped his hand in the Gryphon’s direction, which not only allowed him to drop down to his feet, but succeeded in giving Gryph and all his passengers something like a cramp deep inside his chest. He felt that strange release of leaving, of the man in charge of his body suddenly departing abruptly, but he didn’t know why or how.

“You think you can hurt me?” Louis snarled. “Idiot. You unholy creatures are nothing but -”

“Shut up,” the new man who had taken his body over said, launching a heavy uppercut that landed square on Louis’s jaw. It was a hell of a hit, a lot more powerful and professional than one Gryphon could have ever thrown, and Louis stumbled, reeling from a physical blow he simply didn’t expect. The man in control of him now took advantage of Louis’s surprise, driving a fist right into the base of his neck and snapping a kick that took Louis’s legs out from underneath him, sending him crashing back down to the ground on his ass. “We are not unholy,” the man said (Gryph grokked that his name was Rufus). “Just like you ain’t holy. Having power don’t make you special; power’s easy. It’s what you do with it that counts. And you’re pissin’ it down your leg.”

Louis looked up at him, bloody lip curled back, and held out his hand in a grasping gesture. Once again, he felt someone ripped out of him, Rufus this time, and the next person who took him over asked, “How the hell can you do that?”

“Because I’m god, you stupid creature.” And with that, he tore that person away as well.

But the person who took over this time was Buzz, and he wasn’t amused. “No, you’re dead, like us; you just don’t know it yet.” He grabbed Louis’s outstretched arm, and in one swift, brutal motion, broke his arm, snapping it straight at the elbow. The crack of the bone was loud enough to make Gryphon wince, even though he wasn’t sure he could.

Louis screamed in pain and general shock, and as he seemed to crumple around his now limp and injured arm, something hit them. It was an invisible rhino or something equally massive and powerful, hard and vicious enough that even Gryphon could feel the shock of pain through the layers of passengers in the queue. He went flying, ripped straight off his feet, and slammed back into the broken fence , making the chain link vibrate and ring like a bell.

Very distantly, he could taste blood in his mouth, and feel a sharp pain in his chest as his body slumped to the ground, and he wasn’t sure if Buzz was still in control or not. Everyone was shocked, everyone was hurt; it seemed to reverberate through them all like nothing ever had before. Whatever it was that Louis could do, it was brutal.

For his part, Louis was still sitting on the ground, holding his arm to his chest and rocking slightly, face contorted in pain. “Son of a bitch,” he muttered, a mantra starting to become a curse. “You can’t hurt me; nothing you do can hurt me.”

“There you’re wrong,” a voice said, and he only belatedly recognized it as his own. It also took him a moment to realize it wasn’t one of the inmates talking, but Ruby. She had come to the forefront, angry and far more focused than everyone else, who was still reeling from the shock. She was no stranger to pain, not in her sad life and even sadder death; tasting blood just made her that much more angry and focused. “Now, find out how much.”

Louis had time to look up, and Gryphon felt … something. There was nothing in his experience that prepared him for this, or for this feeling. It was like something exploded deep inside his head, something small but powerful, a bursting blood vessel of energy, an aneurysm of sheer power. It hurt, and yet afterwards there was an almost calming wave of numbness.

Did Louis do it, or did he feel it? Either way, Louis’s eyes suddenly widened, and he was yanked violently back into the burning shell of the building by invisible hands.

Gryphon felt distant resistance again, a pressure as puzzling as it was invisible, and the entire building collapsed as if stepped on by a giant; the pile seem instantly compressed on a thrashing point that could have only been Louis.

He could hear him screaming, flaming boards and burning motes of dust flying as he struggled against, but Ruby held it all down – somehow; it never ceased to amaze him how adept his passengers were at using the power they claimed to have no knowledge of most of the time – and his screams, now more of pain than rage, were horrible. Bloodcurdling and raw, Gryphon could almost hear the inside of his throat being burned away, crackling like bacon in a frying pan, the smell of baking flesh filling the night air like back smoke.

The screaming died very abruptly, but Ruby kept the pressure on a for one minute longer, on the off chance he was faking it.

He’s dead, Hugh assured her. No one can survive an inferno like that, even with a suit.

The building now looked like a large beach bonfire, with boards sticking out at all angles, the flames six feet high and rising into the sky, lighting up the surrounding grounds like a false dawn. He could feel the heat coming from it, burning sparks like fireflies riding the currents, but he still felt cold and weak. And if he was in control of his body, he probably would have vomited.

Remind me never to piss you off, Ray said to Ruby.

This was the point in the horror movie where the supposedly dead guy would pop out of the flaming heap and come for them, burning like a Roman candle and yet never faltering in his step. But it didn’t happen – this was no movie. This was … what the fuck was this?

“The better man won, whatever it was,” Ruby said. She was still in control, and sitting up, preparing to stand.

You’re not a man, Gryphon pointed out needlessly.

“Well, I’m stuck in your body, so it’ll have to do.” Even Gryphon felt something wet on his face, too copious to be sweat, and when Ruby looked down, putting her/his hands on the ground, blood pattered on the dirt, leaving dark circles and splatters, micro indents of mud. “Oh shit.”

Where am I bleeding? Gryphon asked, feeling kind of woozy. Oh hell, everybody was feeling woozy, and that was unprecedented.

Ruby wiped the back of her/his hand across her/his nose, and came away with a huge liquid smear of crimson. “Just the nose, I think. We’re good; a nosebleed never killed anyone.”

A hemophiliac, Hugh suggested.

“Shut the fuck up, smart ass.”

Let me back, Gryphon asked, although he didn’t know why. If he actually had the strength to handle it, he could have just done it.

She knew that better than anyone. “Are you sure, kid?”

Yeah. No, but he felt some desperate need to be in control of himself again, even if he couldn’t do anything.

Ruby ceded control to him, and he instantly wished he wasn’t such a dickhead, because the reality of coming back to his body so suddenly was too much for him. He’d thought he’d hurt before, but that was through the filter of all his passengers; without the buffer, the pain was terrible. He felt like a walking bruise, with a chest full of broken glass and a face that had been used for kickball practice. The world seemed to tilt on its axis, and he went plunging straight for the ground, even though he was still sitting down. Somehow he got his hands out in front of him and caught himself before he kissed the dirt, but blood sluiced out his nose, ran down his lips with a warm, salty wetness that felt like watery snot. He could taste the blood running down his throat too, nearly choking him, and he took a wild guess. “This isn’t just a nosebleed.”

He hurt us pretty bad, Ruby agreed.

“Are we sure it was him?” He could remember that feeling of something breaking inside his own mind. What if it was a blood vessel? An aneurysm, a stroke? Could you feel them like that?

He got a sense of another shift in the world, and looked up to see many of the late inmates of Serenity Acres standing before him, the grounds suddenly alive and green, a lush lawn leading to a massive, solitary oak tree, where he could hear birds singing in the early afternoon sunlight. The sanitarium itself was back intact and standing, a whitewashed cinderblock rectangle with windows reflecting the empty sun.

Buzz was there, apparently still intact, but it looked like the crowd had shrunk from its previous size. “Thank you for your help, Gryphon, but we can take it from here.”

He looked up at Buzz, confused. “Take what?”

But he saw a commotion out of the corner of his eye, a small flurry of movement near the front of the building, and suddenly, in the center of a group of patients, was Louis. He seemed to be struggling, but was being held back by the large crowd. “You can’t do this to me! I’m not one of you! I am your god!” They started to drag him into the asylum as he thrashed and screamed, and it did no good at all. He was just another dead man among the dead … and yet a newbie among the long deceased. They had a power he could only dream about now.

Gryphon waved at him sarcastically, unable to suppress a smile. “Bye, god! Write if you get work!”

Louis’s only response was a shout of frustration as he was dragged into the sanitarium by the patients, and the doors slammed shut with a finality that seemed inevitable. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that Louis belonged here, far more than anyone else who’d been sentenced to this pathetic place. Maybe this was meant by the term “poetic justice”. Or karma; his mother probably would have said karma.

The scene shifted, and he was back in the real world, the grounds of Serenity Acres as they stood today, an arid wasteland, the remains of the ersatz building continuing to burn brightly and cast writhing shadows on the ground. A small puddle of blood had formed between his hand, and he watched with an almost clinical detachment as the falling drops of blood made ripples on its surface.

You need to go to a hospital now, Mr. Aronofsky insisted. We managed to hold most of them back last time. We can do it again.

Gryphon knew he was bad, because he didn’t have the strength to argue with him. “I’ll … let’s see if I can walk first.”

He sat back on his haunches, which was far harder than it should have been, and it felt like he had a tide within his head, something that swelled and receded with every movement, something just waiting to carry him away, pull him down like an undertow and sweep him into realms unknown.

He tangled his fingers in a cold metal loop of the fence, and used it to pull himself to his feet. He then had to rest against it, and his knees threatened to buckle, as the blood now streaming down his face felt as molten as lava. He could feel it on the side of his neck as well, dribbling down from somewhere else. A cut on his head? From his ears? He felt as light and fluffy as a cloud, save for the leaden heaviness of his head.

Let me take over, Hugh demanded.

“No.” It was true, wasn’t it? Stanhope had been full of shit, except for one thing – the ironic probability that the dead were killing him. He always felt a little empty and tired after one had left him, and it made a certain amount of sense that when they took off, they took a little piece of him with them. The dead kept him alive, but they also extracted a price for it. Ass, cash, or grass – no one rode for free, as the bumper sticker proclaimed.

He chuckled at the thought as he pulled himself along the fence, not sure he could stand or walk without its help, and as he circumnavigated the perimeter via the fence, it started to rain. A light sprinkle at first, but it quickly started building in intensity, pelting down like small stones from the sky. But it had yet to have any effect on the fire, and he wondered if it honestly would. Did a fire created by death psychokinesis actually ever get put out, or did it just burn itself out?

If he “asked Jeeves” about that, he wondered what the answer would be.

He felt stoned, much more drunk than he had ever been, and as he launched himself off the fence and staggered towards his car, he heard himself giggling, and he didn’t know why. No, he did. “So this is dying? This isn’t as bad as it was the first time.”

You’re not dying, Ruby said.

“You won’t let me, is that it? Am I gonna end up like that? Am I gonna be a poltergeist?” He stumbled, almost fell, and ended up splayed on the wet hood of the Buick, which made him laugh. Graceful as a hobbled duck.

You’re not going to die, kid, Hugh reiterated. But you may need a transfusion.

His blood was pattering on the hood, getting diluted and smeared in the rain. Something grated deep inside his chest as he pushed himself up, bone against bone, but he felt like such a collection of broken pottery it didn’t even matter to him. He really didn’t care; the pain wasn’t even that bad. Mainly, he was just really cold.

Okay, now I think you’re going into shock, Hugh interjected. We need to take you over.

“No,” he replied belligerently, not even sure why he didn’t like the idea.

He managed to slip in the car, even though the door seemed inordinately heavy, and plopped in the front seat, wondering for a good five minutes where his car keys were. He remembered to check his pockets for keys when the car suddenly rumbled to life all on its own.

Controlling electricity’s gotta be good for somethin’, Taneesha said.

Wow – he (well, his passengers) could hotwire a car without touching a single damn thing. That was pretty damn cool.

He drove as if half asleep, unable to focus clearly and not completely sure what it was he was supposed to do. The wipers turned themselves on, slapping rhythmically as they cleared the rain away from the windshield, but he drove off the road several times, and had no fucking idea where he was going. He was freezing, and he was tired, and he just wouldn’t stop bleeding. Maybe if he had a nap, he’d be able to think a little clearer, but his passengers just wouldn’t let him.

An oasis of light reared up on the horizon, an all night gas station, and he aimed for it, aware that he was so cold his fingers felt numb on the steering wheel. Maybe if he had one of those fleece steering wheel covers, they wouldn’t be.

You are totally delirious now, Hugh said.

He kind of parked, away from the pumps but admittedly not at the greatest angle, and stumbled out of the car, not completely sure what he was doing. He grabbed on to the door, and looking down at the pavement, he noticed his shirt was almost black with blood. Did he have a chest wound too? He didn’t remember.

He staggered to the glass door and used his body weight to force it open, briefly closing his eyes against the harsh fluorescents. The place reeked of oil and coffee that could have substituted for diesel, although it was a far more pleasant smell than that of his own blood.

He staggered up to the front counter, where a pimply faced kid was half asleep, watching a stupid action movie on a portable t.v., judging from the sound of gunshots. When the kid’s eyes scudded sleepily towards him and locked on, they grew so wide so fast it looked like an explosion of white, like they might fall out of his head like marbles. He looked that bad, huh?

He dug the Spirit Guides card out of his pocket with numb fingers, and dropped it on the counter. He vaguely noticed he left a bloody fingerprint on it. “Do me a favor,” he slurred to the boy, who had now jumped to his feet and backed away like he might be contagious. “Call ‘em and tell ‘em I’m sorry.”

The world seemed to tilt violently to the left, and Gryphon went with, figuring this was a good a place to die as any.

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