Passings and Risings

Posted: 8th April 2012 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories
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A rabbi stood up in the conference room, at the end of the table, standing before a trio of other rabbis, several Christians pastors—two Catholic and four others from various Protestant faiths—a nun, two Muslim imams, a Buddhist cleric and a Wiccan priestess.

“I appreciate you all coming to this meeting on such short notice,” said Abraham Sandler, more commonly known to his congregation as Rabbi Abe, by way of introduction. He was the current chairman of this inter-faith community group, dubbed Faith@Work, and he would rather have been anyplace else right now—preferably across an ocean. “I know several other of our members couldn’t be here but I’m sure between the—let’s see—15 of us, we can make sure they’re up to speed.”

He paused, and took a deep breath.

“Doctor Holiday has been spotted in New Judah,” he said heavily, and saw the uneasy stirrings around the table. “Earlier today, someone saw what was on his chest display, and it doesn’t bode well. Rather, it doesn’t bode well for certain of us, so I understand if a few of you might leave this meeting early since it’s not likely to affect you directly.”

With a pained look on his face, Father Daniel Calvecchio of St. Cecelia’s Catholic Church—who often did double-duty at these meetings sitting in for the bishop of the New Judah Diocese in addition to representing his own church—lifted his head and looked soberly into Abe’s eyes. “It’s April 17th today—is it Easter or Passover that has him coming here?”

Abe nodded. You usually are the quickest and sharpest of us in this group, he thought.

“Unfortunately, both,” Abe replied, and paused as the silence of most of those sitting around the table somehow deepened. “His display is split, with a Passover countdown on one side and a message of the upcoming Easter holiday on the other half. I’ve done some quick research; this has never happened before. In the decade since Doctor Holiday appeared, he’s ‘celebrated’ Easter six times and Passover three times but never in the same year—this tenth April seasonal showing is the only time both have factored into his activities. Also, unless he leaves the city before Passover begins, this appearance will give the city of New Judah the dubious distinction of being the only community he’s visited for a holiday more than once—and only five months after that Thanksgiving appearance, no less. I hope that doesn’t mean he’s setting up residence here.”

“Well, at least that was a relatively harmless visit in November,” noted Siraj Al-Qazwini, a relatively young imam who was heading up the new Islamic Society of New Judah mosque that had been constructed eight months earlier. It had replaced the original mosque that had been destroyed—and many of its members killed, as well—some two years earlier by a trio of white supremacist transhumans. “He spent a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner in a poor family’s home but the only person it seems he harmed was a drug dealer earlier in the day—unfortunate, of course, no great loss there. Perhaps this visit will be similarly peaceful.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure…” Daniel said with heavy resignation, and then just stopped, sighing and staring at some random point in the air.

Abe decided to take it up from there, since he knew what his Catholic friend and colleague was thinking, and it had great personal weight for the man.

“I think we need to remember what happened last year, Siraj,” Abe noted. “The Easter Slaughter. Mafia Catholics vs. Russian Jewish mob.”

The DeCavalcante crime family had been sparring for more than two years already with a mostly Jewish organized crime group with links to Russia over the rapidly dwindling piece of the pie that old-school mobsters even got to enjoy these days as they competed with street gangs and transhumans in the criminal sphere, Abe silently recalled. The DeCavalcantes had killed one of the Russian mob’s leaders, nicknamed Tsar Alexi, on his way to celebrate the Passover Seder with his family. Then the Russians responded by murdering the entire immediate family of Joey Colombo—the third-in-command of the DeCavalcante criminal operations—while the 10 of them were enjoying Easter dinner and Joey was finishing some business elsewhere with his boss Michael DeCavalcante. What followed was several weeks of vicious retaliations volleyed between them before things calmed down again.

One of those revenge attacks killed three of Father Calvecchio’s cousins, Abe recalled as he glanced at the still-brooding priest, and only one of them was even involved in mob activities.

In the aftermath, the only ones who benefitted were those criminal leaders not directly involved in the ruckus, most notably among them Irish mob boss Murphy Walsh.

“Passover begins in two days,” Abe said. “Easter is five days after that. Pretty much an entire week that the Judeo-Christian community might end up dealing with Doctor Holiday in some way, shape or form. Like I said, this doesn’t affect all of you, but most of us need to make some plans to see that this holy season doesn’t end up bloody—at least not beyond the symbolic blood involved for Jews and Christians.”

No one left the meeting early.

But when everyone was finished up, that sense of camaraderie did little to dull the dread that each took home with himself or herself.

* * *

Joey Colombo toweled himself off, steam still filling much of the master bathroom. He took his time about it; his emotions were still raw from several days now of memories from last year’s massacre flooding back. Thoughts of Anna and his kids and even his first grandson dead all around the Easter table when he got home.

He wasn’t without children this year, for what that was worth. He’d made an “honest woman” of his years-long mistress two months ago and both her daughter and her son, five and three, respectively, were of his loins—and now legally and publicly his children

In some ways, that made it all the harder for him to get trough this “anniversary.” They were all a reminder that he’d replaced his dead family with a backup one.

As he opened the door of his bathroom to enter the bedroom and greet his wife, he stopped cold, and thought his heart would stop as well. Looming there was Doctor Holiday, the left-hand side of his digital chest display saying “Passover is here!” and the other side running a countdown to Easter, now a little less than five days distant.

Joey could see Margie on the bed in the background, clutching the sheets to her scantily clad body and staring in his direction, face ashen and panicked.

“You may not be Jewish, Mr. Colombo,” Doctor Holiday said. “But I thought you would find it worth knowing that the Angel of Death passed over your house tonight, even without lamb’s blood on your door.”

Without another word or gesture, Doctor Holiday left.

Being a good Catholic boy from long back—always getting high marks in his religious classes—Joey knew about the Old Testament Exodus all too well. What had begun it and what had led to the Passover celebration among Jews. The killing of the first-born Egyptian children by the Angel of Death—the final plague visited upon Pharaoh and his people by God to force the release of the Jewish slaves.

When he said “passed over,” did he mean in the good way or that…?

Joey ran to his daughter’s bedroom—the eldest child—and then to his son’s.

Both of them were alive, but very confused about why he was waking them out of a sound slumber and hugging them so fiercely with tears in his eyes.

Though overwhelmed with relief, somewhere in the back of his mind Joey wondered, Who didn’t get passed over, and what does any of this have to do with me?

* * *

Twenty-seven minutes later, Doctor Holiday slipped from the shadows to block “The Fixer,” otherwise known as Murphy Walsh or the Emerald Godfather, as the man stepped out from one of his nightclubs and headed for his limo.

“A plague visits your home tonight,” Doctor Holiday intoned. “Partial payment for your sins.”

As quickly as he appeared, the transhuman retreated and Murphy was left perplexed.

But awareness—and with it panic—quickly replaced the confusion.

Home.

When he got there, Murphy found his wife alive and well, and the children all seemed fine. Until…

All his family alive except for 15-year-old Patrick, his only son. Dead in his bed with no signs of injury or trauma. As peaceful-looking as if he’d just drifted into dreams.

Murphy’s firstborn child.

The mob boss hadn’t shed a tear for any of the four lieutenants he’d lost in apparently unrelated incidents—one heart attack, one apparent accident, one apparent suicide and one apparent murder—in the past couple weeks, but he wept openly over this death.

And Doctor Holiday had said this was only partial payment, Murphy reminded himself.

* * *

On April 20th, Murphy saw the first zombie.

It wasn’t that he believed in the undead.

But it was hard to mistake a corpse for much of anything else, and they weren’t supposed to stand around, much less stumble across the street to stop on the sidewalk and stare at him with lifeless, oozing, muck-filled pits where eyes were supposed to be.

Murphy pulled his gun, but the zombie never approached him. It simply raised one arm and pointed at him accusingly.

It wasn’t until several hours later that Murphy realized the corpse wasn’t a stranger. The features would have been hard to place after numerous days of swelling and rot, not to mention having taken a the impact of a city bus before death, but the suit was very familiar.

One of his four recently deceased lieutenants: Kevin Clarke.

* * *

The next night, there were two zombies—Kevin again, looking a little the worse for wear, and the colleague who’d apparently committed suicide: Oliver Beckett, who hadn’t decomposed all that much around the face yet, probably in part because it hadn’t met the front end of a speeding vehicle like Kevin’s.

They were on the lawn of his backyard, and it had already taken everything Murphy had to write off the previous late-afternoon sighting of Kevin as some hallucination. After convincing himself it had all been a dream, now he had two dead mean trespassing.

They each raised an arm to point at him, and at that point, the Emerald Godfather lost it. He pulled his gun and fired two rounds into Kevin, one of them striking him perfectly in the center of the forehead.

The dead man continued to stand there, pointing, and it seemed like his undead comrade was laughing some silent laugh at Murphy.

Fuck you! You’re supposed to go down with a headshot! That’s what happens in the books and movies!

Murphy retreated back into his house, locking every window and door.

He considered calling up his men for some help. But then he wondered at the reality of all this. Transhuman heroes and villains and other such superpowered humans existed, sure. That was odd enough and society was still getting used to that after 40 years. But the walking dead? Genetic mutations were one thing, but rising from the grave was quite another.

Murphy realized he might very well be losing his mind, and the last thing he needed was to call someone over and discover that they didn’t see any zombies at all. He’d worked too hard to pull ahead of the Italians and those Russian Jews—he was known as The Fixer, after all; now wasn’t the time for anyone in his operation to see him losing it.

He’d hastily sent his wife and three surviving children away for a long trip to Ireland after the first zombie appeared, hoping he’d had things sorted out before they returned, and he was even more grateful that they weren’t here to see him losing his mind.

There was no sleep for Murphy that night, even after he looked down at one point to see the pair of zombies shuffling off toward his back gate and away from the house.

* * *

Kevin and Oliver brought along a third recruit with them the morning of April 22nd, as Murphy gazed out his kitchen window.

Seeing Joe O’Toole along with the other guys made Murphy choke on the smoke of his cigarette and gag up half his breakfast and coffee. When he finally achieve some sort of composure, Murphy slugged down half his cup of brew in one gulp to replace some of the emptied contents of his stomach, as well as to shock himself awake, he hoped. The scalding pain of coffee searing his throat centered him as well.

None of the zombies disappeared, though. They just stood by the side of his house. After a few minutes, they slowly approached the kitchen window, and the Emerald Godfather wondered if he needed to shed his Fixer nickname, because he had no idea how to game this situation or solve the predicament he was in, now that the murder victim among his recently deceased men had joined the other two.

When they got to the window, they pressed their faces against it.

No, Murphy thought, not their faces. Their mouths. They’re giving my window a long three-way oozing kiss from each of their mouths.

Then they backed away to point at him in silent accusation.

Murphy managed to keep his shit together for about a minute before he screamed and then backed into a corner to curl into a ball.

When he got up, they were gone, and he knew what tomorrow would bring, even if he didn’t know the time of the arrival. Heart attack victim Teddy Washbombe—the most recently deceased of his men—would join the other three.

* * *

Murphy wasn’t wrong, and the Emerald Godfather watched as the quartet danced an Irish folk jig to the musical accompaniment of crickets in the grass late at night on the 23rd in his backyard. Then the accusing fingers—four of them this time—followed by four jaunty salutes.

The Fixer had no idea whether the synchronized salute was a farewell gesture or one to signify: See you later.

* * *

No more of his men had died recently, so Murphy convinced himself that Easter Day would bring no more zombies to his doorstep. There was no fifth undead thing to add and, after all, hadn’t that been the pattern?

Except my son, but he doesn’t fit the pattern, right? And he’s in a locked crypt.

Or maybe I went a little crazy, he thought, and there were no dead men harassing me. I’ve worked out my problems now. No more seeing dead people. Just a day of missing my absent family on Easter.

He got through the day without hassle, including Easter Mass services with his parents and grandparents and then an early Easter dinner with them and a bunch of aunts, uncles and cousins later in the day. He checked out his clubs that night, and got in a couple blowjobs from two of his hottest ladies at the strip club before he returned home at 10:15 and got ready to call it a night.

Murphy hadn’t been in bed more than 10 minutes before he heard the doorbell ring.

He ignored the incessant sound for another 10 minutes.

Then the phone rang, and he picked it up hesitantly.

“Answer the door, or we come in to drag you out, Fixer,” said a gravelly voice. It didn’t sound like Kevin, Ted, Joe or Oliver. But then again, Murphy didn’t know what a zombie sounded like. Not a goddamn one of them should even have cell phones to call him with.

Mustering all his will, Murphy said solidly—even bravely—“I’ll be down in 15 minutes, when I’ve had a chance to get dressed and splash some water on my face. You fuckin’ try a goddamn thing and I’ll make you wish you’d never crawled outta your graves, any one of you.”

Once he was ready, and packing three pistols—not to mention a sawed-off shotgun inside his trench coat—the Emerald Godfather went to his front door. A quick look through the peephole showed Kevin standing across the street, pointing.

But this time, he wasn’t pointing at Murphy. He was pointing down the street.

Murphy stepped out, looking in the direction of the outstretched arm and saw nothing of interest. So he walked in that direction for a couple minutes until he saw Oliver standing on a corner, undead as could be, pointing down another street.

Murphy had the idea now, and kept walking until he saw Joe some 12 minutes later.

He headed in the direction of that zombie’s pointing finger and reached Teddy eight minutes after that. Murphy could see clearly what Ted was pointing at, and had no confusion about the ultimate destination.

It was the cemetery he had buried his son Patrick in a few days earlier.

* * *

Near the family crypt where Patrick had been laid to rest stood Doctor Holiday. Knowing how dangerous the transhuman was, Murphy resisted the urge to brandish any of his weapons. He simply met the tall man’s eyes and waited.

“Was it worth it to you, Fixer?” Doctor Holiday finally said, and in that gravelly tone Murphy recognized the voice of the caller earlier in the evening.

Not a zombie calling me after all, the mob boss thought with some small satisfaction.

“Was what worth it?” the Emerald Godfather asked.

“Arranging to make it look like the DeCavalcante Family had taken out Tsar Alexi, and then getting someone to plant the bright idea that it would be an excellent idea to act even more batshit violently crazy than Russian mobsters were already known for and kill all of Joey Colombo’s family while they ate Easter ham.”

“You aren’t really Doctor Holiday, are you?” Murphy said, his voice getting deeper and gaining strength as he looked at the cloth-bandaged face and the grim eyes behind the wrappings.

“What makes you think that?”

“You sound too sane. Too together. That ain’t like any Doctor Holiday I’ve heard about,” the Emerald Godfather responded.

“You haven’t been paying much attention, then, Fixer,” Doctor Holiday said. “Plenty of people who’ve encountered me have met very level-headed and relatively sane versions of me. I’ll ask again: Was it worth it?”

“Every goddamn hour, day, week and month spent planning it. Every million dollars extra it brought to me when I picked up the pieces after the Russian kikes and the dagos were done killing each other.”

“You killed a man’s family during one of their holiest days, Fixer,” Doctor Holiday. “Ten innocents—most of them women and children. That’s inexcusable.”

“Oh, and you killing my boy—who wasn’t even out of high school yet—is the height of honor?”

“He died painlessly in his sleep,” Doctor Holiday said, “and payback’s a bitch. But as a matter of scale, it doesn’t compare to what you did. Not by a longshot. You created a bloodbath that spanned weeks beyond the death of Colombo’s family.”

“And I’d do it again,” Murphy said, pulling out the shotgun. “Now I’m gonna fucking kill your unarmed ass. You ain’t Doctor Holiday, and those zombies are some kind of trick. Guys in costumes, I’ll bet. Fucking with me. Hope it was worth it to you because it’s the last trick you’re gonna pull.”

“Lazarus, come forth!” Doctor Holiday bellowed, and one stone wall of the crypt squealed, shrieked and quickly shattered, spraying the Emerald Godfather with a hail of stone chips. The mobster shouted in pain, dropped his gun and stumbled. “Or perhaps I should have yelled ‘Patrick come forth!’,” Doctor Holiday said.

As Murphy regained his bearings, he looked up to see the corpse of his son standing there, and then stepping slowly and jerkily toward him.

“Oh, I’m the real Doctor Holiday, Fixer. I guess it’s just that my subconscious decided to wake up Passover morning and set me up with a specially designed Murph-o-gram in religious holiday mode. My brain decided you needed some Tales from the Crypt-style vengeance. Complete with a weird Interfacer ability to animate corpses. I’m like the puppeteer to the dead, among a few other talents. The son has risen on the third day! Oh, look! Sonny boy wants a hug.”

Patrick’s dead arms were outstretched as he approached Murphy. The man let out a strangled gurgle, torn between grief and rage at the defilement of his son’s grave and the renewed pain of seeing him dead, and the feeling of utter terror that a corpse was reaching for him, animated by a madman.

Murphy pulled out one of the pistols he had brought, and unloaded it into his dead son. It didn’t stop the boy, nor did the next pistol’s worth of bullets. Patrick’s steady gait remained unchanged, while Murphy’s emotional pain grew as he watched the body torn small piece by small piece apart by his own hand, now firing with the last pistol.

Risen from the grave on Easter night, and I’m killing him all over again.

He dropped that empty weapon and scrabbled for the shotgun. When he found it, he fired it—and took off one of Patrick’s legs, ending the horrid advance.

By that time, though, the four dead men who’d guided him to the crypt came upon him from behind. They dragged him screaming into the crypt, as Patrick slowly crawled after them.

* * *

Dawn washed away the man whom Doctor Holiday had briefly been, and the tall, muscled body walked onward with surer steps than any of the corpses he had animated, but with barely any more awareness of his surroundings than even they had possessed.

Doctor Holiday walked from a crypt where six recently dead men remained still, one of them locked in the strangling embrace of his son.

Every one of them was smiling.

Except for Murphy.

And except for Doctor Holiday, marching onward, a display on his chest counting down the days until Memorial Day 2011.