Danse Macabre: Seven – We’re All Gone
Alone With The Dead
by Andrea Speed
Seven – We’re All Gone
Gryphon came to with a jerk, sort of surprised to find himself sitting up in a car seat, looking out a shattered windshield. Car accident, remember? Hugh prompted.
Right. He looked over at O’Leary to find him slumped over the steering wheel. “Cal?” he asked. There was no response.
Check his pulse, Hugh instructed.
Gryphon rolled his eyes. “I can never find a pulse and you know it.”
Fine. Let me take over.
That idea was a relief, and he wasn’t sure why. No, scratch that – he knew exactly why. Even he was tired of being in his own skin. “Yeah, fine.”
The process of letting the others take over had become easier. It was just like letting go, although of what he wasn’t sure. He just felt like he was momentarily falling, and then he was in the back seat, a passenger behind his own eyes. It didn’t get any less disorienting with time, though.
Hugh looked at his arms and patted his chest before undoing his seat belt and reaching across to check O’Leary’s pulse. What the hell was that about? Gryphon asked.
“Trying to figure out if you were hurt,” Hugh said. “Your chest hurts a little.”
It does? He didn’t remember that.
“Yeah. It’s not a sharp pain, though, so maybe it’s just a bruise from the belt.” Hugh put a couple of his fingers on the side of O’Leary’s neck, and he found a pulse right away. How did he manage to do that? “He’s alive. His heartbeat’s a little rapid, but a guy his age and girth probably has hypertension.”
And now you’re the medical expert, Ray carped.
“Trust me, I know bodies,” Hugh said, opening the cab door and getting out. The big thing that hit them was slammed up against the guard rail, steam hissing out from beneath the crumpled hood. As Hugh crossed the street to the wreck, a young Indian guy driving a Volkswagen pulled over and shouted out his driver’s side window, “Need help?”
“Not me, but this guy might,” Hugh replied, approaching the wrecked SUV. He was about within a dozen feet of it when he saw a colorful display on the pavement, blue and red and yellow, and saw that a body was laying splayed out on the shoulder, half in some brush, about fifteen feet from the vehicle itself. Shattered safety glass sparkled like blue and white diamonds strewn at his feet. One of his arms was splayed out, and the other was bent under him in what would have been a painful manner had he been conscious.
It was a man, although he was laying face down on the ground, which added a bit of doubt. But women just didn’t have that type of pipe cleaner body shape, except in odd occurrences. He had short brown hair that sparkled with shattered glass. Hugh knelt beside him, and getting a good look at his bloody face, groaned audibly. “Kid, he’s about your age.” Hugh was right; beneath the hair and the blood, he looked about twenty or so.
Hugh found his pulse in his neck, but it was a lot more erratic than O’Leary’s. It was like a little hummingbird frantically beating its wings against the inner skin of his throat. He’s dying, isn’t he? Gryphon guessed. He supposed if he was in the driver’s seat, he’d be able to sense it, but he wasn’t quite connected to himself right now.
“Possibly,” Hugh reluctantly replied. “He did a header through the windshield, and that ain’t great for your longevity.” He leaned down, and whispered, “Don’t die, kid. I think Gryph’s at full capacity.”
The Indian guy came over, looking nervous enough to jump out of his skin. “I called 911,” he said, looking down at the guy splashed on the road. A brief wave of nausea turned his face pale. He was wearing the dark slacks, white shirt, and bright tie of someone in middle management, but everyone tried not to hold that against him. “Should we, uh, move him off the road ..?”
“No. He could have neck or head injuries that we’d just make worse, so leave him for the paramedics.”
The guy looked down nervously at the accident victim and nodded like his head was on a spring. He seemed relieved that someone else was taking charge. But he stopped his odd loose necked nod to stare at him wonderingly. “You’re bleeding.”
Hugh wiped his face, and saw small smears of blood on his palm. “Just glass cuts. We – I’m fine.”
Nice save, Ruby said.
“Fuck,” O’Leary snapped, getting out of the truck and slamming the door. He looked at the front of the truck, grimacing at the smashed headlight and crumpled front bumper, and grabbing his side as if he were in pain. “Son of a bitch.” He turned towards them, and fixed a laser gaze on the Indian man. “Did you do this? Did you hit me?”
“No, he’s a good Samaritan,” Hugh told him, and then pointed beyond the SUV. “The guy who hit you is over there.”
“Oh.” He saw the man’s body partly on the road and scowled. “Shit. My insurance rates are gonna skyrocket.”
“Wow, and they called me cold,” Hugh said.
O’Leary swiveled the scowl over to him. “I didn’t mean ‘cause of him, I meant … oh forget it.” He sighed and rubbed his broad forehead. “Is he dying?”
“He’s working on it.”
O’Leary gave him a look like he thought he was shitting him and he didn’t find it particularly funny. But then a new expression crossed his face, something akin to understanding, and he asked, “You ain’t Ashmore, are you?”
“Nope. Hugh D’Ancanto, dead guy, at your service.” Hugh added a small, sarcastic, two fingered salute to this. “What gave it away?”
“You’re smiling. Ashmore doesn’t smile.”
“Oh, I know. He’s a gloomy gus. Totally Goth.”
I am not, Gryphon protested.
You so totally are, Taneesha countered.
The Indian guy was looking between him and O’Leary nervously. “What are you guys talking about?”
Hugh opened his mouth to say something, and Gryphon was genuinely curious what he would say, but he never got a chance to find out, as a truck barreled around the corner at an incredible speed. It was newer and wider than O’Leary’s sad excuse for a truck, and painted an ominous shade of black. They were all standing in the road too, so O’Leary had time to curse, but Hugh remained where he was, and simply focused his will as he shouted , “Stop!”
The truck stopped all right. It hit an invisible wall about ten feet in front of him, coming to a dead stop as the front bumper curved like tusks and the headlights shattered into a gentle shower of glass dust, the body of the truck creaking and straining violently under the inertia of the sudden stop. The airbag deployed with a muffled “pop”, hiding the driver, and probably preventing them from seeing the hood of the truck crumple ever so slightly at the front. Smoke was starting to waft from under the hood in faint gray tendrils. “Hot damn,” Hugh said. “That’s fucking cool. I feel totally like Jean Grey.”
O’Leary was glaring at him in a complex mix of fear and disbelief. “Who?”
“Jean Grey. You know, X-Men.” O’Leary continued to stare at him blankly. “You never even saw the movie?”
“I, um, I have,” the Indian guy said nervously. “What did, uh, what did you do to that truck?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Hugh lied, with a big shit-eating grin on his face. He then turned to O’Leary and asked, “Do you have a fire extinguisher?”
It took him a moment to focus on his question, but he finally said, “Yeah, a vehicle one, under the front passenger seat.”
“Good enough.” He went to get it as smoke started pluming out from under the hood of the black truck far more seriously. As Hugh reached under the passenger seat, he muttered, “I probably fried the wiring. But that was cool. Damn kid, you could have so much fun with these powers if you let yourself.”
They’re not my powers, they’re yours. You’re the dead ones, not me.
“But we’re all in you,” Hugh replied, finding the tiny canister and pulling it out. It was as red as your typical fire extinguisher, but was roughly the size of a summer sausage; it looked like a joke fire extinguisher. “There’s gotta be some benefit in that.”
Besides all our voluminous wisdom, Mr. Aronofsky joked.
As Hugh went to the black truck and opened the hood, spraying the contents of the fire extinguisher over a smoking, crackling nest of frying wires near the engine block, the driver of the truck was out and ranting at him. It was a middle aged woman with a strangely round figure and a rat’s nest of bottle blonde hair that made it look like she was wearing a poodle pelt on her head. “What the fuck didja do to my truck?” she ranted, growing angrier and more agitated by the second.
“Hey, lady, back off,” O’Leary snapped.
She ignored him, and got in Hugh’s face as he closed the hood. “This truck is new! What the fuck did you -”
“Back off!” O’Leary demanded angrily. “I’m a cop and this is an accident scene! Don’t make me arrest you for obstruction.” Funny how he didn’t mention he was a retired cop, and couldn’t actually arrest her for anything.
The woman frowned at him, giving him a death look, but backed off. By then, the scream of sirens was audible and approaching fast.
Gryphon let Hugh continue to be in control as the police and ambulance arrived, and Hugh chatted with the ambulance driver, a petite Asian woman, while the others worked on the driver of the SUV. Hugh was flirting with her, successfully it seemed, while she put bandages on his glass cuts and checked his ribcage for possible fractures. He did have a rather nasty looking bruise, but after listening to him breathe through a stethoscope, she winced and said, “Sounds like you have fluid in your lungs. It’s probably not worth bringing you in about, but you might want to go to the doctor as soon as you can.”
“Will do,” Hugh agreed cheerfully.
Not on your life, Gryphon snapped.
Once O’Leary was ready to go, he approached the truck, only to find the Indian guy waiting there, nervously wringing his hands. “What -” he began haltingly, so scared by his own questions he looked nauseous. “ – how did you stop the truck? Are you really … are you actually telekinetic?”
Hugh grinned at him, flashing him the winning smile that got him on the cover of a couple of firefighters charity calendars. “Come on man. That shit doesn’t exist outside of comic books.”
You are a cruel man, Sylvio said.
The car accident fucked up their day, so O’Leary just drove him back to Clay’s house, where Shane was. They’d responded positively to the home exorcism request, although Clay was still wary about it. Shane wanted to know if he was up to doing it tonight, and Hugh was going to say no, but Gryphon insisted on a yes. He just took the time to clean up and take back control of his body before they left, changing his shirt since his shirt was speckled with blood. It was only after he’d done that that he discovered Hugh had gotten the phone number of the paramedic. When had he done that?
I work fast, Hugh admitted.
Supersonic speed fast. Damn, he was dangerous.
Gryphon was surprised to find himself starving, probably because ceding control and the use of psychokinesis seemed to burn through his energy reserves. He grabbed some kind of granola snack bar from Clay’s kitchen (it wasn’t very good, but it was food), and then went out to join them in the Spirit Guide’s van. Shane had painted that on the sides of the blue van and everything – it looked very professional.
He got in the back and laid down amidst the inactive equipment as Shane and Clay sat up front, and Shane told him a bit more about the couple who now owned the house, the Jones’s, and the known history of the house. The most interesting bit brought up by Shane was that there were several deaths at the house over its history, although none were murders – there were three suicides, though, one in 1939, another in 1956, and the last in ‘72. (Hanging, slashed wrists, and drug overdose, respectively). Shane was of the opinion that the suicide in ‘72 was most likely the source of the poltergeist, which was a possibility, but Clay said that wasn’t a sure thing, as perhaps the poltergeist shoved the other people into committing suicide. It was possible, but Gryphon tagged it as unlikely.
He napped until they got to the house, and he woke up the second Shane and Clay opened the back door to retrieve some equipment. Clay studied him skeptically and asked if something had happened while he was out with O’Leary, and he lied and said no, as he saw no reason to mention the car accident. It didn’t matter right now. (He’d already lied and said the scratches were from stumbling into a bramble bush. Very lame as lies went, but explained the uncovered, tiny scratches on his face.)
The house looked old and kind of imposing, a converted farmhouse that still had the vague shape of a barn, with a high ceiling and squared off walls, with wild roses creating a serpentine nest of high shadows against the walls, creeping under the window frames like they were trying to break in.
But he barely noticed the exterior. As soon as he was on the cracked stepping stones that made up the front walk, he felt it. The house – no, something in the house – was just seething with reflexive hate. It wanted everyone to go away and leave it alone; it wanted to be all by itself. There was fear under the anger, but it was mostly aimless rage.
Gryphon didn’t think he reacted to it, but he must have, as Shane and Clay, who were bracketing him on either side, asked, almost in unison, “Got something?” They then shared the embarrassed glance of actors who had stepped on each other’s line.
“Stay here,” he told them. “Somebody really doesn’t want visitors.”
“You see them?” Shane wondered.
“Not yet; they’re hiding in the house. But they know we’re here.” As if to emphasize that fact, Gryphon walked through a cold spot on his way to the front door, a patch like the arctic in the dead of winter. But although he convulsively shuddered, he continued on through it, unimpressed.
“Is it safe for you to go in alone?” Clay wondered, although both remained at the head of the walk. They both knew by now when he told them to stay put, he meant it, and they had to listen.
Gryphon scoffed before looking back at the pair of ghostbusters with a rueful smile. “I’m never alone.”
As soon as he got up to the door, he tried the knob – which was, of course, ice cold – and found the door wouldn’t open. “They give you the house key?”
“They said the house key doesn’t work,” Shane reported. “They had three different locksmiths over here, who claimed the key should work, but none of ‘em could do it.”
“I see. Holding the door shut.“ He turned back to the whitewashed door. “Not very creative, is it Mr. Poltergeist? Guys, open it up.”
They hardly needed any prompting – Ruby was right there on the edge of his consciousness, ready to take over and kick some ass. He’d told her to wait for it, but he didn’t know if she would. He could feel the surge of energy leave him as the door suddenly slammed open, thudding against a wall and shaking the pane in the nearest window.
As soon as he was inside the foyer, which was naked of everything save for a coat tree that looked like it had been there since the beginning of time, he could see his breath coming out in plumes, the air so cold it was almost crystalline. The door slammed behind him with a loud, tooth rattling bang, but Gryphon hardly glanced at it. “You have parlor tricks? So do we. Guys?”
All the doors inside the house slammed. Every door, from kitchen cabinet to master bedroom, slammed shut as if on cue, the closed ones throwing themselves open and banging off walls. Gryphon got a sense that the angry ghost was upstairs. “See? We could do this all day. You’re outnumbered, friend. There’s one of you, and over a half dozen of us. Why don’t you talk to me, instead of hiding?”
He headed for a wooden staircase that looked dusty and positively ancient, and as he stepped on the first stair, an old Bell canning jar came straight out of nowhere, flying towards his face. Oh no you don’t, prick, Ruby said in his mind, as the jar froze in midair, inches from his face. As Gryphon reached out and took the jar, which fell easily into his hand, Hugh said, See? Isn’t this psychokinetic shit cool?
Gryphon put the jar down on the step, and continued up the stairs. “Nice try, but let me remind you once again, I look like one person, but I’m actually a torch wielding mob in a handy economic package. So stop the bullshit and reveal yourself. You’ll have to anyways.”
But did he? As he came to the top of the stairs and saw that the whole upstairs hallways was covered with a glossy white coating of ice, as unnaturally smooth and even as if an artist had been up here trying to paint a snowscape, he wondered if a poltergeist could actually resist his pull. And what would happen if it did.
Part of him didn’t even want to know, but as he approached a small bedroom door where the hate seemed to be radiating in palpable waves, he knew he no longer had a choice.