French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 08
New York City, 2010
The black nothingness of death’s sleep slowly broke to the pounding of a fist on the door and the throbbing of Dylan’s head. He heard a click as the door to his studio apartment opened. With a groan, he rolled over, arm draping over the back of the couch and his face sinking deep into the plush white cushions. “Go away. And let me suffer in peace.”
“Doc Sacco said you’d be hung over,” said the lanky, dark haired Latino as he closed the door behind him. The instant the door closed, he flicked on the lights. The newcomer was dressed in a black Charlemagne heavy metal T-shirt, and a pair of black jeans, and his hair was wiry, standing up in all directions. In his hand was a vacuum-sealed bag filled with what looked like rejects from a meat packer. With added spices, judging from the color. “Brought you some breakfast.”
“No offense Filipe, but sealed or not I can still smell it, and it makes me wanna puke.” With an effort, Dylan sat up, and swiveled his legs over the edge of the couch and dropped his head between his knees. He barely recalled walking home the previous night; just him and Sacco singing Sacco’s favorite John Barrowman show tunes loudly down Hudson Street.Â “I’m dead. Why the hell can I still get a hangover? Christ, I gotta lay off the blood wine.”
“Especially his blood wine; the stuff packs a punch,” Filipe said as he crossed over the hard wood floor of the white-walled apartment to the open kitchen. He eased around the bar, and quickly reached up to the finished cabinets above the black speckled marble counter. “Louis’s downstairs running the cafÃ©; do you think you’ll be able to make it tonight, amigo? Or am I going to tell him you’re hung over?”
“I’ll make it,” Dylan said stubbornly and decided to change the subject. “So, I see you’re dressed to impress.” Dylan lifted his pounding head and wondered what possessed him to paint his and Anna’s place white. It was too bright! The only thing that kept his head from exploding were the variety of Hammer horror movie posters covering the walls with their dark and brooding backgrounds.
Filipe put a bowl down on the bar and sliced open the bag. The room filled with a putrid scent of rotting meat that made Dylan’s mouth water. “You need to clear your system, dude. Take it from the zombie, okay? One night of partying should always be followed by Filipe’s special anti-hangover gazpacho, guaranteed to clear the head in twenty minutes. Nutritious too.” He dropped a spoon in it. “As for my fabulous appearance, yeah, put the spell up this afternoon; I had to do some work. You know mortals, they just don’t understand the beauty of a rotting corpse.”
From the smell of that stuff, it wasn’t his grandma’s gazpacho. Dylan watched his friend carry the bowl of rancid stuff to him and place it on the coffee table with a napkin. With a barghest hunt later in the evening, he didn’t have a choice. He needed to eat — and eat the kind of stuff that would keep him running, even if it meant extra work airing the place out and clearing the stink of decomp from his dishes. “What’s in it?”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know, dude; just that it’s stuff that’ll put your body and soul back together.” He chuckled at his joke. “At least, as much as they ever are.” The zombie pulled up the beanbag chair and sat down. He removed his iPad from his shoulder bag, and switched it on. “I’m just going to send Lou a text. Do you mind if I drop this illusion? I need to be me, brother.”
“Nah, go ahead, you freak me out when you look all human.” Dylan picked up the spoon and stirred the mixture. An eyeball popped up and stared up at him. It was a clouded brown. His stomach pitched, and Dylan closed his eyes, fighting the nausea. Nausea! There was a joke. He was dead, nothing should work down there, yet some mystical power kept his body mimicking life. “This better not be a customer.”
“Hey, trust me, dude.” Filipe looked amused at Dylan’s expression. “You know, it’s been over thirty years for you, Dyl; you should be used to this by now.”
Filipe made a circular motion with his fingers, and pressed an icon on his iPad, whispering a few words in French under his breath. A black glow flickered about him, and his human appearance melted away leaving the tight, partially mummified features of a rotted skeletal face with bulbous eyes staring out at Dylan. The dark wiry hair was still there, and as always it stood on end, making Filipe look more like a wild thing than a mummy.
His skeletal finger dropped away from his iPad. “Really need to work on this touch screen; it’s a bitch playing Angry Birds without fingertips.”
Dylan watched him pull a pair of gloves out of his bag. “These work pretty good, though. I’m marketing them now in the basement. Should get some buys — that’ll help pay for some of the youth center’s fees.”
“I feel for you, dude; failure to activate gadgets that assume you’re alive is a part of being dead.” He popped the eyeball into his mouth; it squished and burst with the first bite. He tasted a hint of cilantro, Worcestershire sauce, anchos, and Tabasco sauce. “Not bad for dead shit.”
“Undead in your case. You know how hard it is to hunt down undead meat?” Filipe tucked his iPad away and leaned on the coffee table. “It’s almost impossible. I have to hit the dark side to suit your tastes.”
“Guess I’m just special.” That was one of the reasons Dylan rarely ate; most revenants fed upon the living, but the only thing Dylan could really eat were other undead, because the focus of his vengeance was a family of vampires — the Blackwells, to be exact, and just thinking the name sent a flash of red-hot rage through him.Â He could manage to survive on mortal blood but only the flesh of other undead would truly feed him. He was a freak among freaks. “Angelus is body-snatching for you now?” Not Angelus, he was too straight-laced for that.
“Angelus has too much of a conscience for that kind of work, Dyl. You’ve known that for years.” Filipe confirmed his thoughts. “I have other sources. I don’t rely on him all the time.” The zombie stretched and cracked his bony knuckles. “You know, Dylan, I’ve noticed that as soon as I bring up the basement center and finance, you change the subject. Not good, ghoul-brother. I know money is tight. I also know it’s coming out of your pocket. I’m not exactly hurting. If you need any cash, I’ll be more than happy to give you a loan.”
It was true that Filipe was not hurting. The zombie had never actually died according to the law — since he’d been able to use his magic to keep up the front. Filipe was thus still employed in the business he’d been in while alive, which meant he had his own software company. He was, honestly, loaded, but pride kept Dylan from taking favors from his friend.
“It’s okay,” he said. “We’ll get there, Filipe. But the gloves are a good idea; you’re not the only one with that problem. Just make sure the kids downstairs can afford them; a lot of them are pretty tapped.”
Most of their clients were kids, young vampires, skinchangers, half-bloods, revenants and ghouls, a few with no place to go and no money to their names. Others either lived with their parents, or in the apartments in Dylan’s halfway house above O’Reily’s cafÃ©. The basement served as a youth club called “The Insurgent CafÃ©” where young people could take classes, use computers, access a library, play games, engage in events and resolve territorial disputes. It was successful, just very expensive.
He was halfway through the gazpacho, and Dylan’s head was clearing; the spices were helping. “Did you hear about last night? France? Got a bad feeling about it.”
“Heard about it? Do you think I live in a cave? Of course I heard about it. And what do you mean, ‘bad feeling’? Blowing Paris to hell, that’s a bad feeling all around. So what kind of bad feeling?” Filipe asked, leaning forward, elbows on his bony knees. “Like, spider-sense bad feeling or just Han Solo bad feeling?”
“More like Yoda bad feeling.”
If Filipe had brow’s his eyes would have widened, as it was, they nearly fell out of his head. “About PerÃ© Lachaise?”
With his spoon, Dylan squished some fleshy object in the soup until it was flat and scooped it up. “Yeah.”
“You must have sensed the magic; I did. You got the Sight; makes you sensitive to mystical stuff,” Filipe said. The zombie dug into his backpack and pulled out a slick black case and placed it on the table. “I’ve been working on analyses of it all night.”
So Professor Frasier and Daniel had been right. Magic was involved. Dylan wondered what else they were right about. “Working on PerÃ© Lachaise? Figures. And, yes, I know I’m a sensitive too, dude. Just kinda caught me off guard. The last vision I had wasâ€¦” He rubbed his chin. Surprisingly, it wasn’t very clear. He had been a boy, still human then. Couldn’t even recall what the vision was about, he knew he had it during training, and it involved his friend Jason’s childhood. “I was a kid, anyway.”
“The change screws us up some times.” Filipe replied with absent-minded sympathy. He popped open his computer and waited for it to boot up.
“You could use mine.” Dylan pointed a thumb to his desktop computer on the kitchen table near the window across the room. It was an old 90s model, the first machine Anna and he had bought (with Filipe’s help).
“Use that? That thing is about ready to be refined into gasoline, it’s so archaic.” Filipe told him.
“It’s a perfectly good machine! I can web-surf with it and get my email.”
“Oh, yes brother, perfectly good! Is bleeding edgeâ€¦ for dead people!”
“Oh, ha-ha, very funny. So you find anything on France?”
“I got a line on the ritual they used, man.” Filipe gave an exaggerated eyeroll of horror. “The hoodoo they used was some serious shit. It was a combined mystical necromantic-soul summoning ceremony. Haven’t seen the likes of it in my lifetime. And I’m a sorcerer!”
A sorcerer, the way Filipe used the word, meant someone who could use both black and white magic (though Filipe hated those terms) and Filipe skated along that edge a lot. Sorcery was a hobby he combined with his computer programming; Dylan wondered what the implication might be of being able to use magic with computers. Filipe was pushing boundaries in so many ways; Dylan knew he used and combined probably a dozen schools of magic.
Dylan stood and carried his bowl over to Filipe’s side and plopped next to him. “The Council met last night, you know; bastards kept me out.”
“I know. And this had nothing to do with Anna.” Filipe’s face turned to his, and despite the undead features Dylan could see the same concern for her in his gaze. “Believe me, if it did, we’d both be on a plane for France right now.”
The conviction in Filipe’s voice told Dylan the Zombie meant every word. He was one of Anna’s clients. Filipe respected her. “Okay, then what the fuck are we looking at?”
“That, my fiendish friend, is a complete mystery, but hacker god that I am, I’ve come up with a few tidbits of information that may shed some light on the subject.” Thin dark lips peeled back to show radiant white teeth. Filipe displayed a screenful of code, which meant absolutely nothing to Dylan. “You see, I managed to get a data dump from a particular satellite before everything shut down, and the satellite had been hacked; what I did actually worked because it was already compromised. Rumor has it that AS’s fingerprints are all over the hack.”
“Who the fuck is AS?”
“No one knows, really. Stands for Arne Saknussemm, because their work’s so deep and the fact he — or she — leaves the initials ‘AS’ after their messages or embedded in their hack somewhere. His, or her, hacks are art in themselves.” If he had real lips, his smile would have been fond. “A lot of us suspect AS works with the League but occasionally operates on the outside.” He shrugged.
“So this AS hacked the satellite? And what, deleted or blocked data from it?”
“Very good, my revenant friend, which can only mean one thing: a coverup. Which brings me to the data I collected from said satellite.” Filipe opened a second folder. In it were several images of the large cemetery with a glowing blue circle and spires of light towering into the sky. Around it, the sky gathered in dark clouds, with lightning and ghostly static sprites. “The next picture is even more interesting.”
The cemetery was no longer seen. The clouds in the sky danced with sparks of light, squinting Dylan made out faint traces of a pentagram in the lighting flash, a pentagram oriented with the single point to the south — horns up to the north. “That’s not Voodoo, dude, that’s old school Satanism.”
“You mean it’s not Voudoun. Stop using that terrible mangling of the name of a great Art. Not just Satanism, either. The spires in the previous photo are in the pattern of Celtic ruins, my friend, and near as I can tell, Druidic,” Filipe told him, clicking back to the previous image, then bouncing back and forth between them. “Whoever the fuck performed this is mixing magic; a certified genius, and they are also certifiably barking mad.”
Dylan sat back, and scratched his head. Druidic magic often drew on elements, especially earth, fire, and wind. It would explain the rain and lighting. “That wasn’t just a regular spell, it was, um, what do you call itâ€¦ elemental magic.”
“You’re sharper than you look, Dyl! That was the druidic part, I think. I mean, I can’t say for sure. I wasn’t there. I have no idea what the incantation was. Hell, I have no idea what performed it.” Filipe rubbed his thin tattooed arms. “Anyone or anything crazy enough to do that ritualâ€¦ I don’t think I want to meet. You got any ideas?”
Dylan wrinkled his brow. “Hell if I know. Daniel thought dark magic.”
“That’s a no-brainer, given some of the things we’re seeing. Problem is, that doesn’t explain the Celtic stuff; that old black magic doesn’t mix with the Celtic.” Filipe said emphatically. “Anyway, I started working analyzing the data for the spell they used. By doing some super-resolution tricks on image sequences, I think I have three of the thirteen runes used. I also collected after photos of the disaster area.”
“What are the runes?”
“Unfortunately, not very helpful; they’re seasonal, for the solstice. They could be used in just about any ritual.” Filipe shrugged. “What I can say? I’m pretty sure it’s connected with the influx of mystical energy I’ve picked up in the city.”
“Influx of energy?” Dylan lifted a brow.
“Yeah, I designed a program for that.” Filipe turned his laptop towards Dylan. In it was a graph with lines spiking up and down.
Dylan stared, and scratched his head. “Reminds me of a seismograph.”
“Well, yeah. Sort of. It’s an energy meter recording sequentially, which is sorta like a seismograph. And you can see there’s been one hell of an increase since the event.” He turned his machine back around, and glanced up at the clock. “When do you work?”
“7:30.” Dylan finished his soup, and stood up. Putting his arms behind his head, he stretched. His headache had faded to a dull roar.
“You have a half-hour to wash the crypt from your mouth and clean up, dude.”
Half an hour wasn’t a lot of time to kill the stench of decomp, but he could manage. “I got it. Thanks for the info. At least I know about as much as Prof Frasier will.”
“Why the fuck bother? I mean it’s not like you need to do anything about it. If it involves us, Liam will deal with it, or let us know.” Filipe closed his laptop and packed it away.
“Because I have a hunt tonight, and if whatever happened in France did something, I need to know what to expect.” The graph, Carmen’s illness, all gave Dylan a pretty good idea what happened. The increase in magic must have beefed up the barghest, boosted its power. Dealing with it might be a little harder than a few iron bullets and a salt circle. Damn.
“If that graph’s right, you might have to upgrade your armory,” Filipe said, mirroring Dylan’s own thoughts as he stood up, and hiked his bag over his thin shoulder. “If you need some curse bags, just ask; I can deliver a few.”
“It’s cool, dude, I’ve got my own supplies.” He opened the closet door next to the bathroom and checked to see if his bottle of holy water was still there. It was half full.
“Man, you are stubborn, and a masochist! That stuff burns the crap out of you! I avoid that like the plague. Well, like I would avoid plague if I could still catch it. Besides, I don’t know if it will work on a barghest, they’re reapers.”
“Depends on what sent it.” Dylan closed the closet. “Filipe, I still pray. I may be damned, but I’m not giving up on God; He’s my only salvation.”
The zombie shrugged. “You’d do better to make your own salvation!” He shrugged. “Well, I have work to do in the basement and I’d better hurry; Louis thinks he’s surfing tonight.”
“Christ, it’s fucking October.” Dylan shook his head, as Filipe vanished out the door. “He’ll freeze his fucking immortal ass off.” Then again, the 250-year-old Cajun made sure the monsters in the halfway house wouldn’t turn into ash during the day; if Louis wanted to spend some of his free time trying to surf in ice-cold water, well, more power to him.
He caught sight of the clock. “Oh, crap.”
He practically ran to the shower.