Interlude with a Dead Man
"Mr. Fazakas says he's fine," the nurse told them. "Except no respiration, no heartbeat, no blood flow, nothing. The room is semiprivate but we've moved Mr. Gavell out. Pending."
The hospital administrator, Mr. Cavanaugh, said, "This section has just been rebuilt."
"It looks pretty," said Seth Markur, deadpan.
"You'll keep things quiet right? This is a recuperative section. They need their sleep."
"We'll see him," said Dr. Gideon LaCroix.
"Just...be careful," said the administrator, wringing his hands.
The two me walked away, and then Markur murmured, "Vampire?"
"Maybe. Restless dead, perhaps." He smiled. "Maybe it's a demon."
"I wish. They're easy if you know the name," Markur replied. "I don't smell one, though." LaCroix pushed open the door with his fetch stick and Markur followed closely behind, penknife in hand.
"Hello, Mr. Fazakas. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. Stiffening up a bit, though." Mr. Fazakas was in his sixties, curly salt-and-pepper hair around the rim of his bald head. He was sitting in bed, the sheet gathered around his apple belly. "Tell you the truth, I haven't been pain-free since a building foundation fell on me in 82. Hurt my knees. I feel this good, I might go back to work. You're doctors?"
"He's the doctor," said Markur, standing back.
"I'm what's known as a traditional practitioner," said LaCroix. "Would you mind lying back for me and just relaxing?"
"Oh, you can't do that in the middle of a workday. You relax and you might not get up, heh-heh-heh."
"So true, Mr. Fazakas. Just lie still for a moment." LaCroix spoke in words that only spirits could hear. "What do you remember?"
"Call me Constantin," said Mr. Fazakas. "They came to wake me for my sleeping pill, but I was already awake. I haven't felt sleepy since."
"What holds you here?"
"Here? Nothing. My wife passed on, my son died in an accident, my daughter married a Catholic and then moved out West and became a lesbian. No grandchildren. I'd die if I could."
"But you stayed with your body."
"What else should I do? I'm lying in bed waiting. Now, though, I feel so good I might go back to work. They'll be surprised to see me at the shop."
"You didn't see a light? Or hear your wife?"
LaCroix turned to Markur. "No light. No agent, no psychopomp."
"That's odd. Usually spirits find their own ways to the afterlife." Markur looked around the room as if the answer were there.
"I can give him a fast trip."
Markur shrugged. "Do it then."
"Just lie back, Mr. Fazakas. I'm going to help you along." LaCroix opened his pouch and poured corn meal along the floor, spelling out mystic sigils and the names of spirits. Markur made sure the doors to the washroom and hall were shut as LaCroix took off his suit jacket. Then LaCroix started singing.
Finally, after fifteen minutes, LaCroix stopped and said, "It's done." He mopped sweat from his brow. "He's passed on."
"I'm still here," moaned Mr. Fazakas, "but I can't move."
"What—?" LaCroix bent over the dead man. Markur gave a cry and knocked him aside.
Fazakas' arms closed on empty space, missing LaCroix by inches.
"He knows me," growled the thing now wearing Fazakas' body. "Or does he?"
"I know you well enough," said Markur, and with a flick of his wrist his penknife extended to a full sword, and he gripped it with two hands.
"Just say my name and make me go away, then." The thing grinned, showing sharp fangs and shredded the bed sheets with fingers turned into claws.
"Vampire?" asked LaCroix, scrambling back on the floor as Markur kept himself between the two.
"Some vampires are demons. Demons under the Vampire King."
"Akazizel!" coughed the monster.
"What'd he say?"
"A name, but it's not the name of the Vampire King." Markur recognized the name of his sword but did not say so. He moved warily, trying to keep himself between LaCroix and the monster.
"Akazizel, you will roast in the lowest pits! Your banishment will not save you."
"You have a name I don't know about?" asked LaCroix.
"Yeah, but that's not it." Markur slashed once, and the monster flipped up the hospital bed to stop him. Floor tiles cracked. "Easy to banish demons if you know their names."
LaCroix spotted a crucifix on the table beside the other bed and grabbed it. He thrust it toward the monster, which hissed in response.
Markur leapt over the bed. The monster grabbed the IV stand and parried as they exchanged staccato blows.
LaCroix held his fetch stick high. "Your body is mine to command. The bodies of all the dead are mine." He stared at the body of Mr. Fazakas and focused his will—
The demon laughed. "You cannot banish me. This body is mine, now, and I shape it to my needs." It was barely recognizable as Fazakas now, lean and hungry, with long nails—claws—like swords, and teeth like sickles. It picked up a bedside table and threw it at LaCroix. Glass shattered and dropped musically to the floor. LaCroix was already somewhere else, his crucifix held forward as a shield.
While it was distracted, Markur cut the demon's hand off; the demon roared, and the hand began to crawl along the floor, claws scritching on the tile.
"Bind it!" shouted LaCroix.
"I can't, you wrecked the circle!" Markur slashed the hand in two; each half began to move. Markur's nostrils twitched: each separated body part had become a vessel for a demon. "Three demons! Or more! It's a gateway!" He raised the sword high for a broad sweep, but LaCroix could not see at what. "Cover me!"
The demon swung at Markur, and LaCroix brought the crucifix down on its shoulder. Sulfurous smoke erupted, combining the worst of rotten eggs, bad meat, and vomit.
The demon roared again, and then: "I'll stitch your arm to mine for that, and use it to disembowel you!"
LaCroix leapt over the other bed and tumbled to the floor there. Markur cleaved a great hole in the floor; steam and other gases spurted up, obscuring Markur in a cloud of greenish smoke.
The demon was too angry at LaCroix to notice. He tossed the big hospital bed aside, to the window. The thick metal tubing of the bed frame crumpled like straws, but the window held.
Markur slashed the floor again, and this time water began to well up. LaCroix pulled the curtain between the beds, granting him a half-second to scramble out of sight.
The demon tore through the curtain and caught LaCroix in one rawhide hand, threw him ahead and out the door, where he could be skewered.
There were screams from outside. Two men and a woman shambled into the room, naked but for toe tags and evidence of violent deaths.
"Zombies?" cried Markur. He swore.
"Had to call them—I can't touch him," called LaCroix from the hall.
"Not until I've finished destroying the gateway!"
The first corpse reached the inside of the room and shuddered as a demon possessed it. "Too late," it growled.
The other two corpses stopped moving.
Grinning, the original demon scooped up one of the corpses and threw it into the room as Markur made a last cut at the ceiling. The corpse knocked him over and knocked his sword from his hand. Acrid smoke began to billow from the roof.
"Akazizel!" cried the newest demon even as its skin sloughed off, and sprang after the sword.
LaCroix waited to see what would happen with the zombie thrown into the room. He had no chance to see: the Fazakas-demon emerged from the room and charged him. LaCroix called his remaining zombies.
Markur couldn't see his sword for the acrid smoke filling the room, but he could see the newest demon scrambling for it, and he dove on the demon.
"Akazizel! Know that Zekabelial sent you to your vengeance—"
Markur spoke quickly, an ancient incantation of banishment, naming Zekabelial specifically, and the writhing skinless thing beneath him stopped moving. In the clear space beneath the clouds, he could see his sword, under a radiator.
Without his sword's assistance, those vapors could knock him out. He crawled toward it.
In the hall, the demon realized what was happening. "Akazizelllll!" it screamed and carried the two zombies with it into the room. Just as Markur reached for his sword, the demon sank his claw into Markur's back, impaling him to the floor.
The demon chuckled like old oil draining from a car. "Almost lost. Not quite." The demon reached forward, and couldn't.
It was stuck by the same claw, deep in the floor. Dark blood spread slowly from Markur's body.
"You'll have to wait...for me...to die," gasped Markur.
"I'll wait. I have all the time in the world," said the demon. "And beyond."
"I don't think so," said LaCroix. He poured corn meal in a circle around the demon.
"What are you doing?" the demon struggled. The zombies dropped the two wriggling half-hands into the circle.
"Your body told me a secret before you had full control. Except I didn't know what it meant."
The zombies began to bang rhythmically on metal: a bedpan, a pitcher.
"It told me your name." LaCroix sang the incantation of banishment while the demon struggled, opening wider holes in Markur's body, while he winced and groaned.
LaCroix banged his stick on the ground. "Be gone."
The demon was gone. The zombies fell to the ground, lifeless corpses.
"Here," said LaCroix. "This is yours." He batted the sword to Markur, and fell to the floor.
Markur lay there amidst the wreckage, feeling his body grow whole again.
"How did we get this job?" asked LaCroix.
From his position on the floor, Markur said, "Campbell promised them less collateral damage than if superheroes handled it."
Lying in the rubble beside him, LaCroix laughed and laughed.
|Dr. Gideon LaCroix|
Demons are in ICONS A to Z.