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Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Greyghost tells me that the walls between worlds are especially thin today, so for a few hours there could be some parallel-world style leakage. (I must not subscribe to the same newsletters she does.) I told Cass and he said he'd keep an eye out when he was on patrol. I wonder what kinds of things can happen... Nazis winning World War II? No superheroes? Red Sox winning the Series?
Most jobs will give you some time off after something like this. They'll say, "Dennis, go home and rest up and take care of yourself. Don't come back in until you're ready." Then there's this job, where I'd probably have to have a bullet wound tended on my lunch break. If I got a lunch break that day.

Saturday afternoon I was sitting at my desk working my way through informants' reports, when I smelled something bad. It smelled like a dead sheep, dipped in mayonnaise, left in the bottom of the fridge for six months. I looked around to see what it was, coughing, and saw a pile of dust on the floor beside me.

The pile of dust grew bigger and bigger, very quickly. I pushed my chair back from it, but within two seconds it was forming itself into a skeleton. More dust settled on the skeleton, fleshing it out, until it became a vaguely human figure: a dude with slicked-back hair, a leather jacket, sunglasses, and fangs. His skin was brown and rotted and he had yellow claws. He sniffed the air. "Thlick," he thaid. "Greyghotht thpendth time here... Cool it!" He cuffed the phone out of my hand before I could dial.

"What do you--" I said, and he punched me out.

(Intermission)

I came to on some kind of metal grating. I looked around, and I was chained to a rickety catwalk in some abandoned... factory? It was pretty dim in here. Through the grating, I could see a bubbling vat below me. The fumes smelled like... I couldn't place it.

Thunglatheth Guy was standing below. "Awake?" he said.

"Yeah. Let me guess. You're Cool Ghoul, right?"

"You got it, baby. Here'th how thith ith going to work. You're gonna get Greyghotht to make the thcene, and when he thowth up I'll kill him and eat him, and then I'll eat you later on." He didn't mention killing me.

I glanced around. Shadows everywhere. "Whatever you say," I told him. "How do you want me to reach him?" I had my pen-phone on me, but there was no point in giving that little trick away if I didn't have to.

He pointed. Further down the catwalk was a plastic bag containing a cellphone and a piece of paper. "Read jutht what'th on the page," Cool Ghoul said. "Thay anything elthe and you're taking a thort thwim." He waggled a rope that was attached to one of the catwalk supports.

I dialed Greyghost's number. When he answered I said, "Ahem. This is insert name here. I'm at 34 Hayes Thtreet. Come alone," and clicked off. With any luck, Greyghost got a bit of a clue out of the lisp.

"You think you're pretty funny, don't you?" the Ghoul said. "What did he thay?"

"Nothing. I hung up."

"He'd better come. If he doethn't, your death will be quite a bummer for you."

"It would anyway. But he'll come."

"He'd better," he said, picking up a big stick and stirring the vat of bubbling stuff.

"What is that, anyway?" I asked.

"Muthtard," he told me. "I hope you like Dijon, becauthe it'll be the latht thing you thee, hear, thmell, tathte or feel."

"Uh huh." The poor guy had no chance and didn't even know it. "So what's this about? Revenge?"

"Thorta," the Ghoul said, still stirring. "Greyghotht really pithed me off when he put me in jail. But mothtly I'm hungry, and thuperheroeth tathte really good. Better than thlobth like you."

"I could tell you were a connoisseur," I said. Just looking back at all the stupid witty banter I said, it looks like I wasn't scared at all. I was, though. God, I was one pull of a rope away from being boiled to death in mustard. Plus, Cool Ghoul was pretty damn creepy, the way his fangs bit into his dead tongue every time he tried to pronounce an 's'. I had two things on my side, though:

1. this abandoned factory was dark enough to be a freaking playground for Greyghost, once he got here. What Cool Ghoul should have done was light the place up as much as he possibly could
2. by now, I had trained myself not to act rattled in front of people powerful enough to twist my head off with one hand. Never let them see you sweat.

Time passed. Cool Ghoul looked at his Rolex.

"Thith ith boring. Maybe I thould jutht frag you now and get you out of the way for when he arriveth." He paused. "I like having you alive becauthe it giveth Greyghotht a dithtraction in the rumble we're going to have." Paused again. "But I'm really hungry. Really, really hungry."

"You can kill me anytime," I suggested. "But once you do it, you can't undo it."

"I know," he said. "That'th my favorite thing about it." Yeesh.

More time passed. Cool Ghoul opened out a folding chair and read a magazine. I didn't like this captured-hostage crap. We're all the heroes of our own lives, but when you're chained to a railing waiting to be rescued it drives home how much you're not the hero of anybody else's life. And I don't need to be thinking things like that. But, God, it was good to be able to count on Greyghost. I'm skeptical about a lot of things, but I knew he'd show and I knew I was going to get out of this.

More time passed.

Something was wrong with my visibility. A grey cloud hung over the catwalk. I tried to blink it away, and for an instant I could make out a shadowy caped figure. I didn't react. He was attaching the catwalk to the ceiling with extra wires. Then the blurring was gone.

Cool Ghoul stood up. "I thmell him," he said. He scanned the room, backing around in a circle. Then he started rotting, crumbling, disintegrating, and turned into a cloud of dust that whirled into nothingness.

I couldn't see any sign of either of them. Then the lights began to go out, with loud thunking switch-sounds. Chunnn. Chunnn. Chunnn. And now the only remaining light was near the far wall, and Greyghost stepped out directly under it.

"Come," he said, balanced and ready.

A smelly tornado spun up from every corner of the factory, firing dust at Greyghost, and he was locked in a fight with Cool Ghoul. I tried to watch, but they were too fast for me to make out individual punches or slashes or blocks.

Then Cool Ghoul turned to dust again, and rematerialized next to his deadfall rope. "I'll thcrag him!" he shouted. "I will!"

"You won't," Greyghost said, moving across the factory floor, darker than the darkness around him. He wasn't walking; he was advancing in exactly the same style a shadow uses when it gets longer. It struck me that these were not two human beings I was watching fight each other.

I don't know why the Ghoul bothered pulling on the rope. His threat hadn't stopped Greyghost, and killing me wasn't going to solve anything. Anyway, he did, but the catwalk didn't go anywhere, held up by Greyghost's wires. Cool Ghoul screamed and dove at Greyghost.

More fighting. This time I saw the Ghoul grab a fistful of Greyghost's cape and try to throw him down. I figured, oh hell, but the cape tore away easily. And once separated from Greyghost, the fibers in it twisted and contracted, wrapping itself around Cool Ghoul's arm and body. As the Ghoul writhed, Greyghost delivered the final uppercut.

He took his sweet time setting me loose, too. He had to seal up Cool Ghoul in an oil drum (guess he doesn't need to breathe), turn off the heat to the mustard and retrieve his cape before he could be bothered to cut me loose with his trusty new knife. "I didn't know your cape did that," I said.

He checked me up and down and saw that I was standing on my own. "I have to deliver this barrel to the police," he said. "Pick up Ingrid and drive her downtown for Christmas shopping."

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