A Show of Hands
Duke, Linc, and Sophie continued down a long, red corridor lined with three-foot-tall candle holders holding candles in front of grotesque, floor to ceiling portraits of twisted characters.
“Is this hallway turning?” Duke asked.
“It looks pretty straight to me?” Sophie replied.
“Not like that. Twisting I mean.”
“Still not seeing it.”
“Then why am I floating on my side?” Duke floated next to them, parallel with the floor.
“I thought you were relaxing.”
“I got a question too,” Linc said. “How long have we been walking down this hall and haven’t found a single door?”
“Maybe we exhausted our door quota back in the other room.”
“I’m just going to start pulling on candles like this was Frankenstein’s house.”
Linc grabbed a candle holder and pulled on it. It swung forward like a lever and the portrait slid aside and opened into a small powder room.
“That worked?” Sophie said.
Duke pulled on another candle and another portrait slid open. This one revealed a closet full of cleaning supplies. They all started pulling on the candles. Portraits slid open one after the other. Adjacent paintings would slide open and block off previously opened rooms next to them.
“Why would anybody live here?” Linc shouted down the hall, his voice slapping back in a quick echo.
“Maybe they live in a more practical area of the house,” Sophie replied.
“Can’t wait till we find it.”
They pulled back another candle and it opened into a large two-floor library. The entrance opened onto a balcony. On either side were staircases that curved in a wide arc to the floor below. It was furnished in dark wood and the floor was covered in a shaggy red rug. The bookcases stretched from the floor on up to the ceiling two floors above them. Pulsifer was standing halfway up a wheeled ladder that appeared to be rolling on its own. He was leaning back against the shelves reading a book.
“Finally,” Pulsifer said, snapping the book shut. “I was about to go grab a bite while I waited for you.”
Cheryl and Ian searched the room. Carl had decided it better to stand still after crushing three high backed chairs and two grandfather clocks. Ian rummaged through boxes and books containing technical diagrams, financial information and old office memos. Cheryl examined the pictures stacked up in a drawer on an end table.
“This guy worked for Vyxco,” Ian said, showing Cheryl a memo written on Vyxco letterhead and signed by Randall Pulsifer.
“Figures,” she mumbled back, browsing through a stack of pictures. “Here’s a cute shot of them on vacation in a third world country. Probably there ransacking it for pleasure.”
“Hey, look at this,” he held up a black and white picture. “It’s from when Vyx was a student at MIT. Pulsifer is in it.”
“What’s it say on the sign he’s holding?”
“C Suite. It was group Vyx formed in college. It was the basis of Vyxco.”
“C Suite? They were douchebags way back when.”
“They thought they were going to change the world.”
“Vyx got his wish. Not in the way he thought, but it came true.”
Cheryl came to a framed picture on the wall. The glass was coated in dust. She brushed off a spot in the center revealing a Vyxco logo. She continued cleaning until a cameo portrait of a young, still human Simon Vyx appeared. Surrounding his picture were smaller cameos. Each labeled with their names and titles.
Simon Vyx, CEO
Samuel Burns, CIO
Lewis Gambol, CBO
Paula Yoo, CBO
Randall Pulsifer, COO
Alexis North, CFO
“He’s was literally C suite,” Cheryl said. “COO.”
“Huh,” Ian examined the picture.
“You worked for Vyxco and you didn’t recognize this guy?”
“I was fairly apathetic.”
“This ends now,” Duke said.
“Agreed,” Pulsifer said, descending the ladder. “Starting with you two clowns.”
Pulsifer raised his hands and paperweights, letter openers, receipt spindles, and sundry office supplies lifted off the desk in the center of the room and launched toward Linc and Duke. Duke was pierced by a spindle and pummeled with a rock, bearing the inscription Hawaii and a crude stencil of a palm tree. Linc had a letter opener sticking out of his thigh. The hilt said: Pikes Peak.
“You feel like helping?” Duke said to Sophie. “He’s not attacking you.”
“What do you want me to do?” she asked. “He’s got moving stuff around powers.”
“Can’t you use a counterspell or something?”
“This isn’t D&D.”
“Let’s see how resilient the undead really are,” Pulsifer said and the whole desk lifted off the ground.
“I’m not undead,” Duke said. “I just have similar symptoms.”
Sophie fired an arrow at Pulsifer. The desk crashed to the floor and he drew his finger through the air. The arrow bent its course, striking the wall behind him, exploding into silver sparks. She fired several more as she approached Pulsifer. All were redirected back toward Linc and Duke. A few of the redirected arrows struck them. The others exploded nearby, showing them in sparks.
“Howsabout you try something less explody,” Linc yelled.
“No, please continue,” Pulsifer said, “I’m enjoying making you pummel your friends. They were annoying and unexpected. How you incompetents continue to make friends is beyond me.”
She held her hands out and a blacklight grew between her and Pulsifer. From the light crawled a monstrous centipede and crawled toward Pulsifer. He waved his hand and the insect splatted, green and thick, against the wall.
“We’ve learned how to handle you, Fischer,” he said.
“Who’s ‘we’ and how do you know who I am?” she asked. “Answer the first question first...no, the second...that one’s more disturbing.”
“Why wouldn’t I know you? You’re responsible for the death of the greatest man I’ve ever known, let alone worked for. We’ve been honing the powers the explosion granted us to put an end to you once and for all.”
“There’s that ‘we’ again.”
“You’ll meet us in good time. Some of you already have. Once we’re done wearing you down, we’ll put you out of your misery.”
“Who am I responsible for killing?”
“The sociopathy required to forget murdering someone is staggering. You know I keep a list in my wallet of everyone I’ve killed? Simon Vyx. I'm talking about Simon Vyx.”
“We didn’t kill him. He sacrificed himself so we could defeat Yaldabaoth.”
“Is that the story you tell yourself?”
“Enough of this,” Duke lunged at Pulsifer.
Pulsifer seemed to grab him by the throat without touching him and threw him against the wall. Linc caught him by surprise with a blow across the jaw. Pulsifer pushed his hand and Linc slid back on his knee.
“My ex-wife is off my Christmas card list, for inflicting you two morons on me,” Pulsifer said.
“Where are the children, Pulsifer?” Linc said.
“I thought if I told you I didn’t have any you’d move on. They’re fine. They’re upstate with their grandmother. She’s just being vindictive because I told her that her writing was derivative and trite. But you’re not going to stop because you’ve turned this into a futile crusade that’s accomplishing nothing. So you shut down the Centipede branch of the business. We’ll just reallocate resources to another department. We’re a very dynamic organization.”
“You’re about to be put out of business,” Duke growled.
“Do you rehearse those lines ahead of time?” Sophie asked Duke.
“There’s only one thing that possibly stands in the way of our goals,” Pulsifer said, “and it’s not you. It’s inexplicably her and her gang of misfit toys. You two zombies were honestly a surprise.”
“Inexplicably?” Sophie protested. “I think we do better work than that. Give a little credit.”
“You have a near-miraculous talent for failing upward. There. I said something nice.”
Linc crawled over to Duke.
“See if you guys can keep him distracted,” Linc said. “I noticed something and I want to test it out. Give me your shoelaces.”
“My shoelaces? My shoes will fall off. They’re Chuck Taylors. Not much keeps them on.”
“You float. What do you need shoes for?”
“My feet still get cold.”
“Just gimme 'em.”
Duke unstrung his shoes and handed the laces to Linc. He tied them together.
Sophie clenched her fists in frustration and shot her hands out. All the light in the room redirected toward Pulsifer. He squinted and turned his head.
“Looks like she’s got it,” Linc said and scrambled to his feet.
“Are you trying to give me a fatal sunburn?” he groaned. “Goodbye, Fischer,” Pulsifer replaced the book and the bookcases split apart. “Tell your friends, we’ll see them soon.”
Duke pushed the bookcases back together. The wood splinted as it fought against the mechanism that slid it open. The two halves banged together.
“Are you still trying?” Pulsifer sighed.
He turned toward Duke and lifted his hand. Duke began to descend to the floor. Being pushed by Pulsifer’s unseen force. The light continued to pierce Pulsifer’s eyes.
“Would you please knock that off?” Pulsifer lifted his other hand toward Sophie.
Linc stood behind Pulsifer and looped the laces around his hands and bound them behind his back. Duke popped up from the floor.
“You can’t do all that fancy dicketydoo without your hands free can you?” Linc said.
Duke floated toward him.
“Care to do the honors?” Linc asked him.
“Been waiting for this,” Duke replied.
Duke struck Pulsifer across the jaw and he crumpled into an unconscious ragdoll.
“Glass jaw,” Duke said, shielding his eyes.
“Nice right cross,” Linc said, squinting.
They both looked at Sophie.
“You can turn that off now,” Linc said to her.
“I did about twenty seconds ago,” she replied. “Sometimes it takes a while to wear off.”
Duke walked down the hall with the limp body of Pulsifer draped over his shoulder. Every time Pulsifer groaned, threatening to awaken. Duke bumped his head against the chair rails. Linc and Sophie followed behind. The house made sense now. Doors went where doors should go. Into rooms. The same ones. Consistently. The halls were now of normal dwelling length and ended where halls should end. Also rooms. Again, with consistency. They found Cheryl, Ian, and Carl in the front salon, rummaging through Pulsifer’s stuff.
“Soph, check it out,” Cheryl said, holding a wind up monkey clapping cymbals together..
“Of course, he has one of those,” she replied.
“What are we going to do with him?” Ian asked.
“Keep him in a straight jacket and lock him in a dark hole,” Linc said.
“We should probably think about where we’re going to put people like this, “Cheryl said. “Maybe I can design some kind of facility.”
“No secret prisons,” Sophie barked.
“Just a thought. In the meantime, you guys can just throw him in the trunk of my car.”
Linc and Duke walked to Cheryl’s car.
“Oh man,” Duke said. “‘68 Pontiac GTO. That’s class.”
He popped the trunk and dumped Pulsifer inside. He slammed the lid down.
“We worked pretty good together,” Linc said.
“I thought so,” Duke replied.
“We should go into business together.”
“Not bad. It would beat Ubering. I heard they’re like some kind of secret government psyops program.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.”
“What should we call the business?”
“Hmm...how about...Cadavers on Call?”
“We’ll work on it.”
“Wonder what our next case will be?” Linc mused. “Can’t be nearly as crazy as that one.”
As they spoke a blue Honda Civic with an Uber sticker drove past. And then back again the other way. And then once more. It came to a stop on the curb across the street. Two men sat inside. The driver emerged. As soon as both feet hit the pavement loud pops rang out. His body shook and twitched. Red stains spread across his white shirt. A sound like a tennis ball shooting out of a PVC pipe was heard and the car exploded. Burning pieces of car and person rained to the ground.
A man emerged from around the corner. He was carrying more guns, knives, and explosives than necessary for any imaginable purpose and making no attempts to hide it. He walked toward Linc and Duke. As he approached he stuffed a cigarette in his mouth, bent down and grabbed a severed arm, still sheathed in a burning sleeve. He lit the cigarette with the flames. He stopped in front of the Chariot, nodding in appreciation.
“Pontiac GTO,” he said. “‘68. Not predictable like a Mustang or a Charger. Looks like extensive custom work. Yours?” he asked Duke.
“It belongs to a friend of mine,” Duke replied.
“I noticed you stuffing a body in the trunk.”
“He’s still alive.”
“Either way. You look like some fellas who could help me out.”
“Who are you?”
“Harris. Vincent Harris. And I’ve got a long-brewing score to settle with the Uber corporation,” he squinted and took a long drag from his cigarette.
Skip made his way down a hallway, tapping the walls and opening doors. Each door opened onto surreal, landscapes of cosmic confusion.
“Duke,” he called. “Linc, magic girl, angry lady, flute guy anybody.”
Skip turned the corner of a corridor and stood still. He looked around, shaking his head.
“Wasn’t I just...yep. I’m lost.”