It’s Never as Easy as It Looks
Linc spent the next night playing dead as a couple police officers loaded him into a truck and drove him to a warehouse and put him in cold until the morning. Playing dead wasn’t difficult. The body he was inhabiting was rapidly deteriorating. The night in the meat locker left him feeling stiff and lethargic. He tried to sleep, but all his dreams took place in arctic wastelands and he couldn’t string together fifteen minutes of solid shut-eye.
Two men opened the meat locker and one hoisted Linc over his shoulder. Another stout man in a leather butcher’s apron smiled and rubbed his belly.
“Is this one for me?” the butcher asked.
“No,” the man holding Linc replied, “This one goes to Yoda.”
“Hmph. Ehrlich gets all the choice specimens.”
“He seems to think this one is powered.”
“What’s his power?”
“I don’t know,” he said like he was reprimanding a five-year-old, “Go back to your lab, weirdo.”
They dropped Linc into a wooden crate full of dry ice and nailed the lid shut, before loading the crate into the back of a white Econoline van. Linc tried to time the trip and count the turns, but lost count around twelve rights and three lefts, but the trip wasn’t long enough to have left the city limits. He heard the door doors open and the crate began to jostle. It tipped upright as it was placed on a hand trolley and rolled what felt like several yards. It came to a hard rest and he could hear the trolly scraping against a concrete floor as it was slid out from under the crate. The tip of a crowbar poked through the gap between the lid and the crate and tore the lid off. Standing before the crate was a small, withered man, with a wreath of wispy, white hair ringing his head and a long purple robe. He smiled a toothy grin as he assessed Linc's current vessel.
“I know you’re not dead,” Ehrlich creaked, “You can drop the charade.”
Linc opened his eyes and stepped from the crate, brushing the chips of dry ice off his shoulder.
“You’re an interesting one,” Ehrlich said, “I’ve been watching you.”
“And you’re a creepy white guy.”
“What is it about superpowers that makes people so cheeky? Arrogance? Overconfidence?”
“I’m gonna snap your neck and wear you like a Halloween costume.”
“So that’s how you work, is it? You take up residence in fresh corpses?”
Linc remained silent.
“Your lack of a witty retort has answered my question. Step out of the crate.”
Ehrlich snapped his thumb to his fingers like he was miming a closing mouth and Linc found himself unable to speak. He beckoned Linc to step toward and Linc exited the box against his will.
“You’ll find my mastery over the dead to be unparalleled,” Ehrlich said, “Resist if you like, it will be to no avail.”
Linc was shoved into a cage, with a dirty bedroll in the middle and a tarnished brass pot in the corner. Ehrlich viewed him silence, studying him. The cage was made of three sets of rusty bars bolted into a concrete wall. The walls had copious gashes and lesions exposing the rebar within. It was cold and damp and beads of condensation formed on the walls. They joined and swelled and ran down through the winding channels of the damaged concrete, rolling over the rebar and collecting the oxidized flakes that exfoliated off of it like scales, making the water look like diluted blood dripping from the walls. Linc slump in the corner and stared back at Ehrlich.
“You’ll be working for me now,” he said.
“The hell I will,” Linc replied.
“What makes you think your will had any part in this? I have many enemies and you’re just the person to dispatch them for me,” Ehrlich turned his head and snapped his fingers.
Two men led a bound figure into the room, with a blood-stained towel wrapped around his head. They threw him in the cage with Linc. The towel fell from his head revealing a battered face, unrecognizable as human.
“What's with the kid?” Linc asked.
“He’s disloyal,” Ehrlich answered.
“I mean why did you throw him in here with me?”
“Your current vessel won’t last much longer. I brought him here so you can freshen up.”
“I’m not killing him.”
“No matter. He’ll be dead soon.”
“You think I’m going to take his body?”
“You can either do it willing or by force. Either way, yes.”
Linc sat huddled in the corner, resting his head on his knees. The boy groaned and rolled on his back.
“You’re alive?” Linc said.
“Barely,” the boy replied.
“How’d you mixed up with that crazy old man?”
The boy began to speak but howled in pain.
“Nevermind. You ain’t gotta talk.”
“You’re Corpse Guy, aren’t you?”
“That's what they call you.”
“What the fuck? How come they give me the stupid name?”
“Is Psamurai any better?”
“Good point. How’d you wind up in here?”
“Ehrlich,” the boy grunted as he lurched himself into a sitting position and leaned against the bars, “He’s a good pitchman. Seemed like the answer to my problems.”
“His name’s Ehrlich?”
“Sounds like some movie Nazi name.”
“He was one of those. Way back.”
“Figures,” Linc shook his head.
“He’s a necromancer, He’s very old and powerful.”
“I never heard that word until a few days ago.”
“They use death magic to control the dead, raise zombies.”
“That’s why he was able to control me.”
“Are you a zombie?” the boy’s swollen eyes widened as best they could.
“But you’re not exactly alive either?”
“That’s why you fascinate him.”
“Lucky me,” Linc grunted and shook his head and flopped it back onto the bars, looking up at the ceiling.
“Maybe more than you think. I think your condition might give you an advantage over him.”
“Not when he can just stick his hand up my ass and control me like a Muppet.”
“But if he doesn’t know what body you’re in…”
“How do you know so much about me?” Linc crawled over to the boy and sat in front of him.
“When Ehrlich is interested in something he does his research. I have a plan.”
After several hours a guard came to check on Linc. He peeked through the slot in the door at the cage in the corner. He saw the boy lying on his back, dead eyes staring into space. Linc was curled up on the bedroll which he had dragged into the corner, keeping a distance from the boy.
“Is that kid dead yet?” the guard asked.
“Been dead for a while,” Linc muttered.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Hop in, Corpse Guy.”
“Make me, asshole.”
The guard slid the slot shut and the sound of keys jingling could be heard through the door. The lock clicked and the door flew open, slamming against the wall. The guard stomped toward the cage.
“I said get in there,” the guard shouted.
“Fuck you,” Linc rolled over and turned his back to the guard.
The guard unlocked the cage and lunged toward Linc. The boy grabbed him by the ankle and dropped onto his knees. He turned to strike the boy and Linc jumped up grabbed him by the head and snapped his neck. They both fell into a pile on the floor. The guard sat with a start and took a sharp breath. The guard realigned his head and wobbled it around.
“This neck is like rubber,” Linc said in his new vehicle.
“Okay, now go, before anybody figures it out,” the boy said, “Find his phylactery. You destroy that, you destroy him.”
“Do you know what it looks like?”
“Like some old Egyptian shit. Like a vase with a lid. Pictures of Anubis and shit on it. About this big,” he held his hands about a foot apart.
“What happens after I break it?”
“Not sure, all I know is that’s where all power comes from.”
“If you told me a few days ago, I’d be up to my ass is some Indian Jones shit…”
“Just get out of here before anyone else comes looking,” the boy put his hand on Linc’s shoulder, “Good luck.”
“What, I’m just leaving you here?”
“You need to report two corpses in this cage and that’s what they need to see when they check.”
“Do to me what you did to him.”
“What the fuck, no. I'm gonna get you out of here.”
“Look, I was ready to give a blowjob to a 9 millimeter before I fell in with Ehrlich and I’m in worse shape now. I can’t even walk.”
“Not gonna happen,” Linc stood up and moved toward the open door of the cage.
The boy grabbed the gun on Linc’s hip and stuck it in his mouth. He pulled the trigger and blood exploded from his nose like a water balloon popped inside his head. He slumped on the floor. Linc stood staring at his body wide-eyed and mouth agape, taking heavy breaths. He snapped his head and wiped the sweat off his face. He crouched down and took the gun back, then ran from the room.
He wandered the corridors trying to get his bearings. Every hallway looked the same, dirty concrete and metal boxes with wires and cables running to and from them.
“Like some Eli Roth shit in here,” Linc thought.
“Hey,” a voice shouted, “Ehrlich wants an update on Corpse Guy. Is he done yet?”
“Their both dead,” Linc replied to the robed man.
“Jesus Christ. Ehrlich is going to have your balls for this. You’re going to wind up with the crowd in the basement.”
“I’m not already in the basement?” Linc thought.
“C’mon, dipshit,” the man said, “I'm not explaining this to him, let’s go.”
Linc was led into a large chamber. It was different from the other rooms. This had tapestries depicting depraved and grizzly acts hanging from every wall. Some showed people being run through with pikes, others showed piles of heads and bones. One showed three werewolves in Nazi regalia. Ehrlich sat on a throne made of stone, against the far wall.
At the center of the room was a small vase adorned with pictures of black dogs. The largest dog held a scale. One one side was a human heart and on the other, a feather. It sat in a place of honor on an alabaster pedestal. It was surrounded by what seemed like thousands of candles, stacked on top of the melted remains of a thousand more. Wax was streaming in rivers, growing the ivory mountain, that came up to Linc’s chest.
“Approach me,” Ehrlich said in a low drone.
Linc regarded the phylactery as he approached Ehrlich. He put his hand on the gun at his hip.
“It can’t be that easy,” he thought, “It’s gotta have some kind of weird spell protecting it.”
Linc pulled the gun, aimed at the phylactery and pulled the trigger. His gun clicked.
“Thanks, kid,” Linc mumbled.
“Kill him,” Ehrlich shouted and the cloaked men in the room ran toward Linc.
Linc leaped over the candle mountain and grabbed the phylactery, slamming it against the alabaster pedestal. It wouldn’t break. He couldn’t even crack it.
“Yeah, just destroy the damn thing, right?”
The robed men began hurling themselves over the candles, burning themselves as Linc tried punching the vase. Linc pulled the lid off and a gray mist rushed out, howling in what sounded like pain and wailing hopeless grief. He looked in a saw a glowing, purple heart. He reached in a pulled it out.
“Is this yours, creepy white dude?” Linc said, squeezing the beating heart.
“It’s you,” Ehrlich gasped and clutched at his chest.
Linc crushed the heart in his hand and it oozed thick, black blood down his arm.
“Ugh, nasty,” Linc said.
The cloaked men stopped their pursuit of Linc froze, their faces locked in horror and indecision.
“Fool,” Ehrlich shouted, “Do you know what you’ve done?”
“Killed your decrepit ass?” Linc replied.
“You’ve doomed your world.”
“Look at the ego on old Mister Ehrlich.”
The floor began to rumble and a thunderous noise approached the chamber. Linc looked at Ehrlich who was slumped on his throne, withering.
“I die in the satisfaction, that your world has been destroyed by your hand,” Ehrlich wheezed and expired.
Out from the corridor came a herd of the living dead, no longer under the old necromancer’s control. The robed men fled but were run down. The zombies began tearing them asunder, chewing on their flesh, bones, and guts. As Linc watched from the pedestal, he noticed they were paying him no mind. He smacked one on the head with his gloved hand. It looked up and pawed at him, but continued on with the rest of the herd.
“I guess game recognize game,” Linc said to himself.
He hopped off the pedestal and pushed his way through the stampeding mass.
“I can’t let these things get out.”