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Chapter Eleven

Archie pushed the button activating the automatic garage door. It slid open and Lester Franklin's truck backed in through the slanting rainfall. Franklin switched the engine off and climbed wearily out of the cab. Queenie jumped out after him and ran over to Archie in friendly excitement. He chucked her under the chin.

"Y'know," drawled Franklin laconically, "I'm doin' this as a personal favor to you, Archie. McCloud never would have got me out here tonight." He pinched a chaw from the red and white bag.

"I really appreciate it. It's kind of an emergency."

"Yup." Franklin lifted his tool box from the rear of the truck. Archie grabbed the coiled hose. He unrolled it as they walked to the corridor. "That's why ya call a pro." Queenie ambled contentedly after them as they made their way to the prep room.

"Don't worry, boy," said Franklin between chews. "It'll be runnin' like a top 'fore you know it."

Archie held the swinging door open for the old man, but Queenie stopped at the door, sniffing, planting her four feet at the threshold stubbornly. A low growl rattled in her little throat. Franklin tried to coax Queenie into the room, but the dog would have none of it. She whined, stepping forward, then back again.

"Come on, Queenie. Whatsa matter girl?" said Franklin. "You been here before. C'mon, dog." Archie stepped carefully over the animal.

"OK, girl," said Franklin, "have it your way." He set the toolbox on the embalming table and said to Archie:

"I'll go get her bone." Halfway down the hallway he yelled back: "Arch, you wanna lay out some a those tools?"

Archie began to array several wrenches on the floor in front of the vault. He heard the truck door slam and then he heard a bump and the sound of rustling plastic inside the vault. Kneeling, he put his ear close to the drawer.

"Hey! Stop eavesdropping!" Archie was startled. Franklin chuckled and handed Queenie her bone. She lay at the threshold, neither accepting nor rejecting it. Franklin shrugged and crossed the room.

"I guess I'm a little jumpy," admitted Archie. "I thought I heard some funny noises."

Franklin winked. "Sure you did." He slid the prep table farther away from the vault. "Give me a hand here, Arch." The shoved the table all the way back, and Lester opened one of the top drawers.

"Weeellll, let's see what the damage is…."

He leaned well into the vault. Archie stood close behind him.

"Who's been monkeying with this connection?"

"Well I sure didn't touch it."

"Look how it's bent," said the plumber. He shined his flashlight on the bent joint. Joanie's foot was wedged firmly against it. Lester reached in further to move the foot so he could get to work. The foot didn't want to move. He pushed and pulled gingerly at her toes, with little success.

Archie's gaze drifted back to Joanie's torso, then to her face, so much as it could be seen under the polyethylene. Suddenly the dead girl's hand flexed convulsively, and her spine arched with a cracking sound.

"She's moving!" Archie cried. Franklin started, banging his head against the upper tier.

"Ow! What are you talking about?" He emerged as quickly as he could, rubbing his head. "Don't do this to me, Archie," he said.

"I saw her hand move! I'm not kidding!"

Franklin sighed disgustedly and slid Joanie's drawer open. He pulled the plastic covering off her body, studied it for more time than it really should've taken, and cast a withering stare at Archie:

"This…is one very dead girl."

"Then why did she move?"

Franklin sighed again and moved over to the temperature gauge. He flicked it with his forefinger.

"Heat."

"What?"

"These bodies have been on a heat roller coaster, Archie," Franklin explained patiently. "Frozen, thawed. Frozen, thawed. It's forty-five degrees in there. Look."

He grabbed Joanie's hand by the wrist and turned it palm down. He whipped a Zippo lighter from his pocket, snapped it open, fired it up, and held the flame under Joanie's palm. Her hand contorted slowly into a grotesque, claw-like fist.

"Heat," said Franklin. "That's all it is." He slipped the lighter back in his pocket and smiled, bobbing his head. "You wanna see movement? Wait'll it gets up around fifty. We'll have ourselves a real party!"

Archie thought about it a second: reasonable explanation or claptrap?

Franklin went on quickly:

"And that's why, if you don't mind, I'd like to get to work? Kapeesh?"

Archie shrugged. Franklin ran the hose into the vault.

"Sure," said Archie. He watched helplessly. "Unh, would you like something to drink?"

Franklin considered the possibilities. He slid the drawer shut after pulling the shroud back over the cadaver.

"Yeah," he grinned wickedly. "How about a little McCloud's Special Reserve Brandy?"

"The expensive stuff?"

"Hey, I'm a hard-workin' guy." Franklin grinned, showing his poor crooked tobacco-stained teeth. Archie held up a "back-in-a-sec" finger and disappeared through the swinging door. The old man leaned back into the open vault.

Out in the kitchen, Archie lined up several bottles from the cupboard. McCloud hid the good stuff behind all the others. Archie took it down, grabbed a glass, poured a generous shot. He took a little nip from the bottle himself, winced, and replaced the cork.

Franklin was grunting as he struggled with a connection. An old piece of pipe was removed and rested on the embalming table. Archie set the glass next to it.

"How's it going?"

Franklin's voice echoed from inside the vault:

"Archie, hand me an offset screwdriver, will ya? The L-shaped one." He thrust his hand out behind him, waiting patiently. Archie gave him the tool and tried to peek around Lester for a looksee.

"OK," said the plumber, "lean in the drawer next to me for a sec. I need you to hold the light."

Archie opened the drawer next to Franklin and crawled half way inside. Franklin handed him the flashlight and Archie focussed it on the work at hand. Lester tightened a clamp on a length of plastic hose that bridged the gap where the old pipe used to be. It looked frightfully temporary.

"Good ole PVC," said Franklin. "I think that'll hold 'er." He backed out of the drawer.

"Keep your eye on that clamp," he said. "I'm gonna start the compressor."

"Right."

The switch clicked on. The motor ran for a few seconds, buzzed, and stopped. The room lights, skewing awkwardly into the vault past the drawer, went out and the pipe hissed softly.

"Damn!" said Franklin. Archie backed out of the vault and shone his flashlight at Franklin. Thunder rolled malevolently.

"Hunh," said Archie, in what he hoped was a good-natured voice. "Maybe we need an electrician." Franklin's old eyes glowed rheumy in the flashlight beam as he stepped forward.

"Maybe I need that drink."

Archie panned the light over to the embalming table. The glass gleamed good brandy.

"There y' are."

Franklin raised the glass in a toast:

"Here's to ya. Long life." He drained the brandy in a quick chug, set down the glass, and handed Archie a screwdriver.

"Here, that clamp may need a few more turns. I'll go reset the breaker." Archie lit the way to the hall and Franklin left. Archie crawled back inside the vault, thinking about what a crummy job he had. He held the flashlight in his mouth as he strained to tighten the clamp one final turn. The hissing stopped. A drop of water fell on Archie's nose and—shaken as you may imagine—he dropped the flashlight. It clattered onto the tray beneath him, coming to rest between Joanie's breasts. The flashlight beam played in a hideous way upon her face.

Archie lowered himself down through the drawer mechanism. He hung upside down, very near Joanie. Condensation fell all around him, plopping on the plastic covering the corpses. He reached gingerly for the flashlight, his hand brushing the dead girl's breast.

He pointed the light at the two bodies next to Joanie: The bass player and the back-up singer, Palumbo and Roberta, lay there, just as they'd been left. He panned the light back to Joanie's face and screamed: Her eyes were open. Her lips were drawn back across her teeth in a grimace of ungodly pain.

He twisted quickly away from her, and his left shoulder brushed something. He snapped around to discover himself an inch from Roger Davis, who had turned on his side. His two dead eyes were fixed on Archie, and Archie screamed again.

He dropped the flashlight in panic, pulled himself upright, and slid hastily from the vault. He skittered across the darkened room, only to collide with Franklin in the doorway.

"What?!" screamed Franklin.

"Out!' yelled Archie. "Get outa here!"

They exploded through the prep room door, racing the length of the hallway to the garage. Queenie barked desperately, leading the way, toenails clittering on the tile.

The garage door opened much too slowly, but at long last they found themselves standing outside in the rain. Archie quickly took the remote door opener from his pocket and closed the door. Old Lester was way out of breath. He leaned against the building in pain.

"What's going on? What happened in there?"

"I don't know," answered Archie, "but I am definitely OFF for tonight. That is it!"

"What happened?" insisted Lester, between painful gasps.

"They moved!" The garage door latched shut.

"Archie, c'mon."

"And don't give me that heat shit or spinal reflex or rigor mortis. Those suckers are alive!"

Thunder and lightning broke the night open again, illuminating the man, the boy, and the dog like characters in a horror film. Franklin yelled above the din:

"So what? Are you gonna stand here in the rain?" He took Archie's shoulder. "Come on. I'll finish up and drive you home." Queenie barked in agreement. She was huddled between the old man's feet.

"If you think I'm going back in there," said Archie, "You're nuts."

"At least wait in the garage," said Lester. Archie would have none of it:

"Look, let's just split, OK? Don'tchu go to movies Lester? You never go back inside!"

"I can't leave my tools. Christ, I'd be laughed outa the union."

"Fine," said Archie. You go back in. I'll stay right here. If you're not out in three minutes, I'm leaving. Just honk your horn when you want to get out." He swayed back and forth in the rain, gasping for breath. Franklin eyed him antagonistically:

"You know what you are, Archie?" He turned and marched back to the garage. At the door he turned back and said succinctly: "A pansy. Don't wet your pants while I'm gone."

Archie pushed the button on the remote and Franklin and the dog ducked under and in.

"Three minutes!" shouted Archie. He leaned next to the door, as deeply into the shelter of the eave as he could, trying to stay dry. The rain gave no sign of letting up, though the thunder and lightning seemed to have moved across the river now.

He tried counting the seconds. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, but he was surprised to discover that he was just too frightened to keep it up for very long.

It was dark. He kept waiting for his eyes to adjust but it seemed unlikely to happen. He glanced to his right and was startled to see a mound of polyethylene lying there, half-hidden by the corner of the garage. Hating to move towards it, but needing to prove that he wasn't so cowardly as he'd just appeared to himself, he took slow tentative steps in its direction. The now-familiar sound of water on plastic had grown to operatic proportions. There seemed to be no other sound in the world except for his breathing and the squish of his wet sneakers on the driveway.

Five feet from the shroud, he recognized the object for what it was—his moped, fallen on its side in the storm. Breathing a sigh of relief, he pulled off the tarp and started to back the bike down the driveway far enough to turn it around for his getaway. He got about three feet when something hard and insistent touched him in the middle of his back. He whirled to discover a fallen limb from the old elm, shattered by the lightning. Its leaves quivered piteously in the wind and rain. Alive in the sun this afternoon, tonight they rubbed against each other in cold wet death.

Thanatopsis began to run through his brain for a second, but almost in the instant he was startled by yet another sound: the horn blast from Franklin's truck behind the garage door. It was long and insistent and there was a vague uneasiness about it.

Archie pushed the door opener, and the door arched up into the full fury of the rain. Archie could hear the whir of the truck's starter, but the engine wasn't turning over. The door began to close again automatically. The horn blew again, loud and long, like the Hound of the Baskervilles. Archie pushed the button again. Nothing happened. The rain was a veil between him and the door. He was aware of how wet he was. He tried the button again and again. Still nothing.

Finally, as Archie started to move towards the door with the vague idea of trying to pry it open with a tree branch, the door opened slowly to reveal Franklin's truck sitting there in the darkness.

It began to roll out of the garage. Its tires made crunching sounds on the driveway. The were branches and leaves and loose gravel scattered all over the place. Archie watched in bewilderment as Lester's truck, like it had a mind of its own, lurched down the driveway, dragging its hose behind it. In dream-like slow motion, the truck passed Archie and came to rest in some bushes on the other side of the street.

Archie pranged the kickstand down on his moped. Again the blood was beating in his ears. He cautiously approached the truck, fearing worse than the worst. It was quiet; it was empty. Archie leaned closer, scraping rain and dust from the window on the passenger's side.

Suddenly, in a snarling explosion from inside the truck, Queenie hurled herself against the window. Archie felt the impact of her body. She was barking and wailing, and it took some seconds before Archie had the presence of mind to open the door and let her out.

She ran immediately to the front of the truck. Still tremendously excited, she pawed and yammered frantically at the pavement beneath the bumper.

Archie bent down to investigate. He still had his flashlight in his back pocket and he quickly reached for it and switched it on. He saw a fast-growing pool of blood spreading towards him from beneath the cab.

The flashlight dimmed, its batteries being far too old for all of this. Archie shook the light frantically. With the last of its dying power, the beam revealed Lester Franklin, mangled, hanging from the underside of the truck. He gasped, trying to form some words that Archie couldn't make out. Archie threw himself under the truck, not even thinking about swimming in Franklin's blood, which was warmer than the rain. He shook the flashlight, as if it could interrogate the old man.

"Buh buh buh," said Franklin, blood bubbling at his lips like a red tobacco chaw. "Buh buh buh…." Archie shook the light furiously, trying to form words in his own mouth, but his lips and his tongue and his brain couldn't get it together.

In a supreme effort of will, Franklin finally got the words out:

"Buh buh buh HIND you!"

Archie shot out from under the truck like a lightning bolt and stood up to see Joanie, Rog and Palumbo standing there behind him. They lurched forward, as if powered by some failing battery of their own, and Archie didn't know whether to shit or go blind.

He glanced quickly from one to the other. He was vaguely aware of Queenie barking her brains out at…what? What the hell was he looking at?

Rog Davis, always the best-coordinated athlete he'd ever known, even in death, was too close for anything approaching comfort. Archie's legs seemed to be frozen. Davis approached, slowly, to be sure, but surely, to be certain.

"Buh buh buh…" gurgled Lester, underneath the truck.

"Behind me," thought Archie, and he turned in time to see the garage door start to close. It took his best effort to get his legs started and in gear, but Archie bolted for the door, dodged Joanie and Palumbo, who had tried to outflank him, and dove—at the very last instant—through the narrowing space between the garage door and the ground.


Next: the zombies find McCloud's Special Reserve and appear to have a plan

Forward

in the darkness the undead quarterback
highway to hell in a handbasket
fill 'er up and check the oil
hell hounds on my trail
are you on drugs or just having one of those days?
Freeman and me and the rest of the world