This is part II (the conclusion) of “Rebels with a Shambling Cause.”
“Rebels with a Shambling Cause” and “The Decaffeinated Witch Hacks Again” were inspired by the image below, which is the social media profile picture of a friend who feels rather passionate about zombie lore and about her katana. I hope you enjoyed the quirkiness, the mixing of lore and the reality. I had a blast crafting it all into being. ;-)
Devouring part I first, will add yum to the reading experience.
The Writer felt the presence of the Tomb Reaper—The Unit’s Crypt Team Leader—seconds before a less than human growl crawled out of the Hunter’s mouth.
“I’m sure there is an explanation,” the Writer said. Then she noticed Brew the Potioner’s black and green RV parked across the street, and the surety was drained out of her bones.
The Potioner, face as grim as her brugmansia brew was venomous, stood crossed-arm in front of her cottage on wheels. Her right flank was covered by former agents, Iron Fox and Sharp Smoke; to her left stood the Tomb Reaper and a young woman with a red scarf tied around her eyes. On top of the RV, Moon-Clad Water Nymph’s lips moved to the words of a song meant for someone else’s ears.
“They played you like a cheap banjo, Writer. And I danced like a stupid puppet.” With the last word, the Hunter pulled K’s hilt out of her shoulder bag; the katana’s blade materializing between her mistress and the threat.
Before the Hunter could charge, treetops began to ruffle and the ground trembled as asphalt cracked and parted, giving way to loose dirt that turned and turned until the Bloody Duchess sprouted out of it in the middle of the street. She walked towards the Hunter and the Writer, excess dirt being absorbed by her black and red cape with every step.
“Something’s wrong, Bloody D,” the Writer said.
“No, love,” the Bloody Duchess stomped the sidewalk with the heel of a black knee-high hemp boot. “Everything’s wrong. Can’t see how anyone gets anywhere around this place with all this useless rubbish hardening the land.”
“She’s talking about the trash littering the other side of the street,” the Hunter said.
“May Gaia always get multiples and a nap after!” The Bloody Duchess’ relief could have been sold by the pound. She glanced from K to the Hunter, “I didn’t think I’d get here before you chopped everyone into bloody compost.”
“And chop I will,” the Hunter bared her teeth. “It was a trap. I’m going to—”
“It was,” the Writer said in a voice so low that it sounded like a thought. “But not like you think, Hunter. Not like I… felt.”
“What do you mean?” the Hunter’s uncertainty made K flicker in and out of existence.
“Can you feel…?” the Writer’s voice remained dreamlike. “Can you feel the energy of the people around us, Hunter?”
“Of course I can! I’m almost chocking on the ‘dead-people-are-people-too’ essence of Tomb—”
The Writer raised a hand to quiet the Hunter. “Not them,” she said, “everyone else. Can you feel anyone other than them,” she pointed across the street, “and us?”
“Well, there is the…” The Hunter was going to say that she felt the cashier inside the bookshop, but when she reached for the young woman’s essence, she felt nothing. She turned around and saw the cashier through the glass. “What’s going on?”
The Writer’s eyes focused on the woman singing on top of the RV. The former agent’s dress shimmered like a skirt-shaped wave under a full moon. “Water Nymph is holding a protecting circle around us,” she said. And someone revived one of my kills, she thought, her eyes fixed on the red-scarfed woman.
“She’s shielding us from B. S. Foetor, The Unit’s new writing strategists,” the Bloody Duchess said. “Hunter’s right about the trap. Let’s get across. Your friend, Red Veiled, can explain. If it hadn’t been for her the three of us would be turning into bloody compost on the San Antonio Military Medical Center’s lawn. And that’s not even the worst of it. Where did you find her anyway?”
Everyone got in the RV. Except Moon-Clad Water Nymph who had to maintain the circle, and Iron Fox and Sharp Smoke who protected the enchantress while she sang.
Thirty minutes later, after showing the Hunter that her man and furry babes were safe, Red Veiled revealed how B. S. Foetor had cooked up a plot that should have made the Writer, the Hunter and the Bloody Duchess the only suspects on the butchering of ten disabled heroes. “She has been planting stories on the web, hoping you three would run to protect the public without checking first.”
The Writer shook her head. “We would never kill the innocent. And B. S. Foetor should know that Tomb Reaper would never raise the dead just to be used, controlled and discarded.”
“But wouldn’t she?” the Hunter said. “She always—”
“Hunter, don’t start.” The Writer began to say.
“No, Writer,” Tomb Reaper interrupted. “She’s right. B. S. Foetor knows I’m no fan of Hunter or her katana. If I saw her chopping the innocent, I would have raised the corpses first and asked questions after they defended themselves from her methods.”
The Writer sat on a stool, got a notepad out of her mass of black curls, and let Wicked—the small pit-bull that lived in her hair—jump out for a stroll around the RV. “At least this is over, and my dignity is the only casualty.” But there was sorrow in the Tomb Reaper’s eyes, and the air around her began to howl gently. “What else, Reaper?”
The Tomb Reaper didn’t speak.
But Red Veiled said, “B. S. Foetor wrote an alternate ending.”
“What?” the Hunter and the Writer said at the same time.
Red Veiled shrugged. “Don’t know. B. S. Foetor woke up before I could see what her backup plan was. I can’t be in people’s minds while they’re awake.” She turned towards the Tomb Reaper. “You had access to The Unit’s computers after I told you about all this. What’s the new writer planning?”
The Tomb Reaper said nothing, but the air around her howled louder.
“Reaper?” the Writer said over the noise.
“Foetor hid explosives inside a piñata flag hanging from a tree around where the boys are supposed to be dropped off for their holiday picnic.” Tomb Reaper made a gesture with her hands, and the voices of the spirits that always accompanied her quieted. “If she can’t get you three to kill the boys in front of everyone attending the picnic, she will detonate the explosives and blame the boy’s deaths on radicals.”
“Why!” The writer stood up and began to pace. “That makes no sense.”
The Bloody Duchess lifted her head from the laptop screen she had been reading with the Potioner. “The most convincing lies,” she said, handing the laptop to the Writer, “are those sprinkled with random bits of truth. You were right. They found a way to make new shamblers.”
“And they don’t need me to control them,” the Tomb Reaper said.
“But the public won’t—” the Writer began.
“The public won’t give half a damn about an army of zombies. Not if the shamblers fight to keep the public free,” the Hunter said. And staring at K’s hilt, she added in a lower voice, “Not if The Unit gives the public young agents who are willing to chop up their rotting little problem after all the fighting is done.”
“We need to get those boys before B. S. Foetor realizes that we’re onto her” the Writer said. “How long do you think we have?” She surveyed everyone’s face for an answer.
Tomb Reaper said, “I’m supposed to meet her in front of San Antonio Military Medical Center at noon. She shouldn’t notice my absence before that. Thirteen hours, perhaps—”
“Best if you do what you have to do before sunrise,” Red Veiled said.
The Writer was going to argue, but Red Veiled’s tone made her change her mind. “Okay, that gives us almost eight hours.” She glanced from the Bloody Duchess to Brew the Potioner to the Tomb Reaper and her eyes finally landed on the Hunter’s face. “My friend, would you be willing to repeat ODW?”
The Hunter grinned.
“Are you two mad!” the Tomb Reaper howled almost as loud as the spirits shrieking around her. “She massacred half an island during ODW!”
“Can someone bloody explain what ODW is?” the Bloody Duchess said.
Brew the Potioner’s lips curved up at the corners. “Operation Decaffeinated Witch. Without coffee, our Hunter can be a real b—”
“No,” the Tomb Reaper whispered. “I will help the boys, but I will not be part of anything that results in more innocent casualties.”
“If we plot and develop the whole thing carefully,” the Writer said, “there’ll only be one casualty at the end of this story. And she isn’t innocent.”
The Hunter kissed K’s hilt before saying, “Blood sisters until glass is sand again,” and extending the katana towards the Writer.
“Blood sisters until sand can choose to be glass,” the Writer responded, lowering her head in front of the Hunter.
After K’s hilt was swallowed by the Writer’s legendary hair, the Hunter grinned at Brew the Potioner. “So, dear Potioner, do you have a container that can hold something hot and lethal for a few hours?”
The Writer sat in front of a small desk, in the tower-like attic Brew the Potioner used as a guest bedroom, in her non-mobile cottage. I would really enjoy this little room, she thought, high from the ground and almost completely walled by windows. If only the circumstances had been different. She sighed, let Wicked back into her hair so that he wouldn’t distract her, and began writing on her notepad:
Operation Decaffeinated Witch Hacks Again
by the Writer
Some of tomorrow’s thrilling stories will be drafted out of history’s bones and printed in present day blood. B. S. Foetor knew this. The thought sent The Unit’s new writing strategist to bed with a smile on her young face.
Every member of Operation Decaffeinated Witch Hacks Again (ODWHA) had to be in position before the Texan sun lit the morning sky. They had agreed that Red Veiled would infiltrate B. S. Foetor’s dreams, in order to sound the alarm as soon as The Unit’s writing strategist woke up.
Moon-Clad Water Nymph, Iron Fox and Sharp Smoke waited within earshot of The Unit’s temporary command post. The Bloody Duchess was underground, moving towards the tree that held the explosive flag piñata. And Brew the Potioner was in her basement holding a picture of B. S. Foetor in front of the caged Hunter and telling her that Foetor had her coffee, while the caffeine deprived woman foamed at the mouth and screamed for her katana, her coffee and her freedom.
The Writer’s small print had filled almost three pages when her cell phone rang. She looked at the screen and answered. “Water Nymph, what—”
“Something’s wrong, Writer,” Moon-Clad Water Nymph said. “We’re heading your way.”
“No, you need to sing the guards to sleep. When we let Hunter loose in The Unit’s building, she will attack anything that moves. Water Nymph, listen to—”
“You listen, Writer! The boys were loaded onto a bus. Iron Fox and Sharp Smoke went after them. I stayed to look for Red Veiled and found her asleep. Drugged, I think. I was able to get her and hide, but three armed men and a woman took B. S. Foetor out of the building on a stretcher. I’m on my way to you and Brew. Red won’t wake. Writer? Are you there? Are you listening?”
The Writer was listening, but her eyes were on a thin rope ladder that had appeared in front of the window across from her. She backed up slowly until her back bumped the rail of the spiral stairwell that led down to the first floor of the Potioner’s house.
“Writer?” Moon-Clad Water Nymph was yelling.
With the hand that wasn’t holding the cell phone, the Writer reached into her hair. “Water Nymph, take care of Red Veiled. And tell Hunter I was sorry to have to let K go.” She dropped the cell phone, and shook her hair until K’s hilt fell out and through the middle of the stairwell.
The window glass shattered before the Writer could hear the katana hit the first floor.
B. S. Foetor and her semi-automatic Heckler & Koch walked slowly through the window. Broken glass screeched under her steps. “So very lonely, scribbling hag.”
“You say hag as if it was a bad thing, child,” the Writer said. But the red dot B. S. Foetor had trained over her heart took some of the spunk out of her words.
“Joke, why don’t you?” B. S. Foetor said.
“This won’t work,” the Writer told her. “My people will rescue those boys.” When B. S. Foetor began to laugh, she added, “We took care of your explosives, too.” A flicker of annoyance touched Foetor’s face. The Writer pressed on. “You need to be done soon, child, or Hunter will show you the color of your guts.”
“You are old, spent and stupid. My men already took care of the brewing hag and the beast.” B. S. Foetor grinned. “You didn’t know, did you? You thought we were only after all so important you. You’re pathetic.”
“I don’t get you,” the Writer said. She had been talking to distract Foetor. She needed to give the Bloody Duchess time to rescue the boys and get to the explosives. But this question was genuine. “Why are you doing this? None of this makes any sense.”
“They do say age rots the brain. Don’t worry, hag. I will tell everyone that you fought valiantly until the end. That you killed eight, no nine zombies, before the last one ate your face. I promise to tell and retell the story of your sacrifice in all the celebration barbeques to come. “It’s progress, dear hag. Nothing personal.”
The Writer caught movement behind B. S. Foetor’s back. Hunter. The Writer’s eyes widened, but she hid the gesture before B. S. Foetor could notice. Hunter looked insane. Hair disheveled, huge eyes wild and she was covered in blood from sword tip to armpit.
“You know,” the Writer was looking at B. S. Foetor, but she was talking to Red Veiled who was creeping towards the Hunter with her arms spread wide. “Once Hunter gets her hand on her katana, she will chop everything that even twitches on her path. In her current state, she sees no difference between friend and filth.”
“Sorry hag,” Foetor said, “but your coffee dependent—”
The last word was just the guttural ghost of the word dependent. For right after B. S. Foetor said “coffee,” the Hunter decapitated The Unit’s newest writing strategist.
The Writer stayed very still. Even after B. S. Foetor’s severed head hit her left boot.
“Coffeeeee,” the Hunter growled, dragging her feet towards B. S. Foetor’s head.
“Blood sisters, remember?” the Writer said in a soft voice.
The Hunter didn’t react. She continued shambling forward, moaning, “Coffeeeee.”
“Duck!” the Potioner said.
The Writer knew no human being was fast enough for that. The Hunter would chop her and everything that moved before anyone had the chance to breathe in and out.
And she was right. When the Hunter rushed for the Writer and the Potioner, Red Veiled leapt after her and wrapped her arms around the Hunter’s waist. The blurry bundle of red, silver, and angry growls crashed through the window to the right of where the Writer stood. Frozen.
The Writer recovered her motor skills after something red, black, winged, and increasingly humanoid, flew out of her hair and followed the Hunter and Red Veiled through the window.
Brew the Potioner and the Writer reached the broken window at the same time.
On the ground, surrounded by the bodies of B. S. Foetor’s men, the Hunter and K tried to get to Moon-Clad Water Nymph. But Iron Fox and Sharp Smoke formed a circle of speed and steel that kept the Hunter from harming a friend.
The movement was distracting her, too. It gave Tomb Reaper’s spirits enough time to sneak behind the Hunter. The ghostly limbs held the Hunter still for the fraction of a second Brew the Potioner needed to aim her longbow. The arrow hit the Hunter on a thigh. She uttered a happy sound, and collapsed in the Potioner’s green lawn.
Three hours later, the Hunter sat on the ground sniffing the tip of the arrow. “How much caffeine can you put in this thing? Can you make them into liquid pills? What do they taste like?”
“How can she think about coffee,” the Tomb Reaper said, “while we have Mr. I Used to Be a Little Dog, but Now I’m a Deliciously Naked Winged Man right in front of us?” When the Writer didn’t respond, she tsked and shook her head. “I’m going inside to get a drink.”
“I’ll go with you,” Moon-Clad Water Nymph said. “The sun is about to come out and I need coffee that’s not being shot at me.”
Iron Fox and Sharp Smoke followed without saying a word.They only spoke in hacks and slashes.
The Writer was staring at Red Veiled and her winged man, while trying to ignore the shouts coming out of the bus where the Bloody Duchess argued with the boys. They made things worse by trying to cheer her up. The Bloody Duchess was annoyed because the boys rescued themselves before she could get them out of the bind. They hadn’t trusted B. S. Foetor, so they tapped her phone and had her followed. They had never been in any real danger.
Red Veiled began to walk towards the Writer. Wicked, whose real name was Ebon and who happened to be Red Veiled’s best friend, stayed by the tree with his large wings wrapped around his lower body.
“Can we talk for a moment,” Red Veiled said.
“Of course.” The Writer smiled. “We owe you big.”
“You don’t owe me a thing, my Writer.”
“Oh,” the Writer said. “Do the Bloody Duchess and the rest know what you are?”
Red Veiled tied a thin red string around a feather. She stayed quiet for a while, then said, “I know who I am. That’s enough for me.”
“They will ask questions,” the Writer said, “tie clues together. Figure things out.”
Red Veiled shook her head. “They won’t do anything of the sort. And when the moment comes, neither will you. I trust you that much. Remember that,” she said, handing the feather and string to the writer.
The Writer reached for the feather…
…and I woke up breathing hard and clutching air.
I lay in bed for a while, trying to remember everything about the dream. On the radio, an NPR News correspondent said something about a group of disabled veterans who skipped a free Memorial Day breakfast and went paintballing instead. That made me grin. I turned off the radio, and wondered for how long my alarm had been going off.
The dream was cool in a creepy sort of way, so I decided to write some of the details. Without getting up, I reached for the notepad I always kept next to my bed. My fingers touched… a feather?
I stared at the feather and red string for a very long time. Then I pretended they weren’t there. I started my computer before going to the kitchen to make coffee. I left the brew to do its thing, and got back to the bedroom to check my email.
The first message was from my friend, Gina: “Had a crazy wild dream. I got to wear my black cape and everything. But some bloody kids wouldn’t let me play. I think your Red Veiled was in it.”
I’ll get back to her later, I thought; after I make sense of things.
And I did. I always reply to every friend who lives a dream with me. But I never mentioned the feather or the red string.
And I did. I always reply to every friend who lives a dream with me. But I never mentioned the feather or the red string.
Now, meet the characters:
Bloody Duchess … … … Gina Morley
Brew the Potioner … … … Jane Kirkham
Iron Fox … … … Leigh White Fox E
Hunter … … … Leeanna
Moon-Clad Water Nymph … … … Lorelei Eliora
Sharp Smoke … … … Kinjou Okumura-Ten
Tomb Reaper … … … Linda Sybil Maes Wildenstein
Writer … … … Magaly Guerrero
* Totally self-invited guests: Red Veiled and Ebon