LNH: Dashing Tales #9
ben.rawluk at gmail.com
Tue Sep 15 22:07:57 PDT 2015
DASHING TALES, episode the seventh,
"This isn't The Munsters,"
by Ben Rawluk
They follow the kid.
The kid is a net.hero; she can tell by the horrible fashion sense. He's not the first net.hero to stray into the neighbourhood -- with the Sanitation Department grinding to a halt under budget cuts, a super-powered janitor has been whirlwinding along the alleyways once a week. Captain Napalm and Nomex Man have been known to crawl up out of the woodwork. Hovel Homes was supposed to be devoid of this fools. No such luck; they're everywhere.
They follow the kid from the offices of the Net.ropolis Netizen. They were watching the offices after Bogus was taken care of; standard operating procedure. Watch for signs of trouble. They probably don't need her for that, but she isn't about to complain. You don't last long if you complain.
(You have to work at these things in secret.)
In Omega Town, net.heroes weren't a problem. Other than the Bird of Paradise, but look at what happened to him. But there was only so much room for growth in Omega Town. Better to come to the big city. Boss said: establish a foothold where the net.heroes haven't taken root. Expand outward. They won't be ready for it.
They follow the kid from the offices of the Netizen; he takes out five or six bags of garbage, throws them into the dumpster, stands there in the back alley like he doesn't really know what to do with himself. He keeps picking at the swim goggles over his eyes. He keeps fidgeting with the details of his costume. He looks up.
(He doesn't seem them. No, they know how to do stealth.)
He turns on his heel, kicks at the gravel driven into the centre of the alley by rain, and walks.
They follow, her at the head. The Thrift-Store Mummy, followed by the Corpse Siblings. In the old days, she would have preferred to do this alone; the Siblings are slow, stupid, bumble along the edges of shadow. She has to look back and remind them to lift their legs. She used to hate them. The Corpse Siblings give reanimated flesh a bad name. Now she regards them with the half-hearted fondness of baby ducklings, waddling after her.
The kid keeps his head down and shuttles along.
It's hard to keep up, between the stealth and the Siblings. They keep dragging their feet. Sometimes she thinks: have I really been reduced to this? She ruled a nation, once. She ruled a nation from beyond the grave. Now they tell her that her country no longer exists, that it has disappeared from maps. They tell her it was fictional to begin with. Moribund called it a shoddy knockoff of Egypt, cobbled together from old movies. Like Kid Nosferatu's long-lost Land of Silence.
(Never mind that she remembers the sand between her brown toes, that she remembers the wide sky, the Sun God overhead. Never mind that she remembers dying, remembers the strange, chalk-white woman holding out her hand and declaring that, "Every ending is a beginning.")
It is beginning to rain in Hovel Homes. She hates the rain. The kid speeds up. She begins to move faster, shambling flannel rags straying behind her. Mismatched patterns bleed out. She forgets to look behind her, track the Corpse Siblings. If they fall behind, it doesn't matter. Will any of them care, really, that she didn't keep the Siblings with her? Everyone knows they're useless. Only Boss says: everybody is important. Everybody is family.
(What, a voice says at the back of her head. We are nothing alike. This isn't The Munsters.)
The kid slows and stops in front of the Hovel Homes police precinct. The Thrift-Store Mummy slows and presses into the shadows, deeper. The rain makes her uncomfortable, even underneath the rags, the mouldering cumberbunds and Hawaiian shirts. It never rained, when she ruled a nation. Not unless she told it to.
She hovers at the mouth of the alleyway, hesitant to step out into daylight. The Corpse Siblings -- Danny, Ronnie, Jackie -- draw near. If she had a shovel, she could beat them down and bury them. Find new corpses to raise. Maybe they can be improved upon. She holds up a hand, wrapped in the ragged remains of a denim jacket. She tells them to stop, her voice carrying the sound of wind over desert. When she speaks, it's almost like home.
She watches the kid take the front stairs two at a time, lingering for a moment at the top before slipping inside.
Marco can't shake the sensation of being followed. He eases his hand off the knob once the cop shop door's shut. Maybe it's because he's walking around in his stupid costume. Maybe it's the morning spent in the Netizen bullpen, labouring over a conspiracy board with Emma and April with Spinoza throwing out comments from across the room. Maybe it's the distant shuffle of Victor King behind the door of his office, holding a silent protest to them taking over. Maybe it has something to do with Clement Bogus being turned into a damn vampire.
(And maybe it has to do with Occultism Kid's astral body overlapping his only days ago.)
He's in the cop shop. He pivots, taking in the officer at the front desk. He's a black guy, not that much older than Marco, and Marco can't help but release a breath. He would not be able to handle a white guy right now. Especially in this get-up. The officer pulls off his cap for a second, scrapes fingernails over his close-cropped hair and squints at him. "What the f--"
"LNH," Marco says, flashing the badge. Really, he should have asked Doctor Stomper for a tutorial on how the Legion works with local law enforcement. Code of conduct, procedures, whatever. He feels faintly stupid, standing there with his badge up. He feels like he's on a cop show. He's the poor federal officer who's going to run into resistance from the local--
"Hey," says the cop. He actually smiles. "It's been a while since we've had one of you in here."
"I mean, I hear Captain Napalm swings through once in awhile, but he doesn't stop. Which one are you? I don't recognize you? Are you new? My little brother--"
"Bad-Poetry Boy," Marco says, like he's quite sure of himself.
"Really? Wow. I know about Bad-Timing Boy, and there's Bad Judgement Boy--"
He really should have gone with Poetry-Eating Lad. "Bad-Poetry Boy, really. And, uh, yes, I'm new. That's not going to be a problem, is it?"
"Have you saved the world yet?"
"Then can I have your autograph for my brother? It'll be worth something when you do."
Marco has this nagging feeling that he's gone completely insane. Is that what this is like? He watches the cop push a piece of paper across the desk with a red Bic pen. Marco scribbles his name -- his real name -- and then crosses it out. He writes BAD-POETRY BOY underneath, underlined twice. He pushes it back. The cop shop foyer is narrow and hums with fluorescents. He's going to have a headache tonight. There's a smell -- stale coffee, blood, ink. The place is next to deserted. "Where is everybody?"
"Mostly on patrol," says the cop. "City's only got so much budget for a neighbourhood like this." He clears his throat. "Are you here about a net.villain? Lots of impressionable kids around, don't need 'em getting recruited as henchmen--"
Marco bites at his lip to stop himself from snarking. He takes a moment, and then he says, "I came by to ask about Missing Persons. I'm -- we're dealing with a case right now. Looking for others who may have--" He doesn't really know how to describe it. He doesn't want to panic this guy, doesn't want to say the word VAMPIRE if he doesn't have to. He pulls at his swim goggles, wishing he could rip them right off his face.
"Jesus," says the cop. He screws up his mouth and leans back in his chair. Marco feels like an idiot, standing there in front of this guy. "I mean, we haven't -- I can take you down to the file room and show you--"
"File room? Don't you have, like, computers?" He gestures to the workstation set up on the desk. It looks like it's from about 1987.
"Hey, we don't all have that Toony Stork money to lean on."
She waits for the kid.
The Corpse Siblings squish around her. They don't like space, she's noticed; they press in whenever they can, missing some familiar sensation of burial. Without thinking about it, she snaps Danny's neck; his face contorts and he starts to mutter gibberish that might be abuse. Flannel closes in over him. She could take all of them inside of her, hold them there until they dissolve. Boss would be angry.
(But what would happen if she mummified them? Found a goodwill bin and made them hers? It isn't like Moribund isn't recruiting vampires. Why must she make do with second-rate cadavers when she could just as easily transform them into hers?)
The kid is taking forever. She could slip back to the Netizen, take everyone inside, if it came down to it. It's been so long since she's converted anyone. She's been subsisting off old tea towels and lost socks. She's been repairing herself, replacing her remains with whatever she can find -- the boning of corsets, leather, fun fur. Once she was the crown jewel of an empire, taught the sky to sing--
("None of that was real," said Moribund the Revampire.)
"Courts always have intrigues," she says. Danny is looking up at her from those sunken eye sockets. The Corpse Siblings can't feel, not the way she can. If she could smile, she would; why wouldn't see? She's found a use for the Siblings, finally. Ronnie and Jackie stand there, barely watching as flannel and corduroy and bandanas stretch out from the shambling mass of her, wrapping around their fallen brother. He barely remember to struggle. What's the point of them, i they're useless? If they can't be part of a nation? If you just dig up whatever dead flesh you can find and set it in motion? "Now," she says, turning towards the other two. They don't even know to back up. "Shall we take care of the little lost net.hero?"
The file room is down a narrow staircase. Everything in Hovel Homes is pressed, as if between two hands. He follows the officer ("Just call me Jerome.") down the wincing stairs. "Captain doesn't like us leaving paperwork unfiled," Jerome says, three steps down. "Otherwise it piles up and the place floods." The light dims, the walls grow tighter, Marco thinks about the panic attack shivering at the edge of his consciousness. Kid Kirby probably doesn't get panic attacks. Jerome is apparently still talking: "It's not Lagneto, is it?"
"The net.villain. Your case. And you said 'we' before, do you have other Legionnaires with you? Catalyst Lass? Occultism Kid?"
He does not want to talk about Occultism Kid. "Uh -- Sonnet Queen. She's new, too." He doesn't bother to mention Emma, because Emma isn't a Legionnaire. For the moment. There feels like something inevitable about her, like probably she'll be running the place inside of a week. "It's not Lagneto," he says, almost stumbling over the words. He doesn't really know what to say. "We have suspicions, I mean." He stops talking. He lets the words soak inside his brain. Then he says: "It's classified."
Jerome stops. He looks back and up at Marco. "Really?"
Marco shrugs. Probably that was stupid. Bad-Poetry Boy shouldn't shrug. He definitely shouldn't say "Sure," when talking about something classified, but he does. He tries to smile, like he knows what he's doing. It probably doesn't work. "You were talking about the missing persons cases," he says, because he wants to get Jerome moving again and wants to avoid eye contact for a while. At least until they're in the dark and he doesn't have to feel so naked in his costume.
(Does that get better? Do you stop thinking about how your costume's riding up?)
"Right," says Jerome. He hits the basement floor and leads Marco down a hallway with doors leading off of it. Everything in Hovel Homes is so narrow and so long! Why has he never noticed that before? "We've had a couple over the past few days. I mean, no more than normal. I don't really know what you're looking for, so--"
It's getting darker.
"Is this a genre thing? I don't think the LNH has any electricians on the roster, but maybe--"
"It's not usually this -- this dark--"
Something is standing at the bottom of the stairs. Something is stretching long tendrils of something like fabric. There is a shape in the darkness, like a person covered in endless piles of -- something. Clothing. Three smaller creatures are behind, higher on the stairs.
Marco frowns. "Cover your ears."
"Cover your ears!"
He licks his lips. What is this thing. He starts speak. He lets the words out. His voice does something strange, when he's reciting: it's almost like a different voice. Older, raspier. April almost sings when she recites. He gets only this--
The lights flicker. The floorboards creak -- nails fly up and slap into the ceiling. But the creatures are left untouched, watching them. They should run. April's the only person he's ever met who hasn't been affected. What is this thing? How are they going to--
"I should shoot it!" Jerome is pulling out his gun. "Whatever you did, nothing--"
He's silenced. T-shirts and button-downs slam into his face, pushing Jerome against the wall. They're tied together, like a bedsheet ladder from some stupid movie. Marco surges forward, tries to yank the clothing away from him, but it's moving too quickly. Jerome's screaming, but then his voice is swallowed. He succumbs, falling to the ground while the clothing spills across him, like it's alive.
The largest creature shambles closer and closer. Marco shouts a pantoum, stumbling over the words. Down at the end of the hall, the stairs buckle under the weight of the smaller creatures, and they collapse and slide down into a heap. The fourth, though. It looms closer, and he finds himself shoved to his knees, pressing in beside Jerome. Is Jerome even alive? Marco blinks, regains enough control to start tearing at the clothing slithering over him. He manages to pull off enough to reveal Jerome's mouth, and an unearthly whinge is squeezed out--
TO BE CONTINUED!
Bad-Poetry Boy (Marco Ramirez), Jerome, Sonnet Queen (April Fu), Emma Dash, Victor King, Spinoza, the Bird of Paradise and Clement Bogus created by me, copyright 2015
The Thrift-Store Mummy, The Corpse Siblings (Danny, Ronnie, Jackie), Moribund the Revampire, Kid Nosferatu and the rest of the Legion of Net.Horrors created by me, copyright 2015
Captain Napalm and Nomex Men are the progeny of an unknown writer.
Bad-Timing Boy created by Vernon Harmon.
Bad Judgement Boy created by Arthur Spitzer.
Doctor Stomper created by T. M. Neeck.
Occultism Kid created by Joshua Geurink.
As soon as a storyline starts, these things always become more work. I'm really enjoying working out the Legion of Net.Horrors. This one was a bit stiffer to squeeze out of my fingers, but that happens.
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