Unkillable, page 1
* * * * *
“The effect of the science is to make mankind vain. Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits, nevertheless, philosophically licking its chops.”- H.L. Mencken
You know those stories that you always hear about other people? The people who are in the right place at the right time? That toothless goob who wins the lottery. That fat lady with the puffy arms that your Mom knew from work who went to Vegas and actually won on that slot machine with the really big handle. Yeah, this isn't one of those stories. This is a wrong place, right time story.
And what does it matter what happened before the story starts? Why do you care? It’s not like it was good story. ‘Cause if it was, I would be telling you about that part. I was a drone, a goon, a stooge. I was a guy who had to wear a tie and a short sleeve shirt to work.
My performance was judged based on criteria and guidelines that lived in a three-ring binder. I was tested on the materials in said binder. My knowledge of byzantine procedures and guidelines was more important to my host company than my actual performance. And I say host company, because, as a result of having a meaningless mission statement droned into my head – or just out of spite – you take your pick – I was nothing more than a parasite.
That is until a consultant, one of the other lampreys clamped on to the money-rich underbelly of a slowly dying electronics retailer, realized that he could secure his position by firing useless stooges like me. It was not in keeping with Core Value #3 – Teamwork. But as much as the corporate handbook would like you to believe otherwise, it was a savage world out there. Dog eat, cat eat, all God's creatures gotta eat. And when a creature gets hungry enough, they don’t much care what they are gnawing on. “Forget this rule at your peril,” I would say smugly at carefully regimented smoke breaks of my carefully regimented life.
After I got fired, I decided to tie one on. I headed off into the night with a pocket full of severance check and a self-loathing I needed to drink into oblivion. How could I have been so stupid to stay at that useless, dead-end job so long?
I thought there was no way my life could possibly get worse, that there was nowhere to go but up. I know now that I was wrong. Even if you're lying dead in a field and your corpse is bloating in the sun, you've still got six feet lower to sink.
But what did I know? I was a miserable self-absorbed prick, and I never should have trusted that rat.
By the time I got to the club, I was blind in one-eye. Who knows what club? The thought of getting laid was always coiled in my brainstem back then. A block away I could hear the far-off thumping of heavy dance music, like a tiny dinosaur's heartbeat. It awoke my lust and it wove its way into my consciousness.
Does it matter what happened? Or how it happened? Like I told you, it was the wrong place at the right time. By the time I realized how wrong it was, my fate was sealed. I had pissed off the wrong guy. I probably tried to pay his girlfriend to sleep with me, or worse, his mom. I drank a lot of Vodka.
Two goons, both in cheap, ill-fitting suits, hauled me into the alley out back. Both were sporting tough guy look number three – shaven head and tattoos. As they dragged me with by my ankles, I asked, “Are you guys related? Dating?” They said nothing. They were the Doublemint Twins from hell.
They threw me into the side of the dumpster and started punching and kicking me.
After a while, another man came outside. He seemed like the boss. He was sporting tough guy look number three as well, but on him it was different. His suit fit, and his head was covered with a tattoo of a snake that ran down the side of his neck. He spoke a language I did not understand. But I could read that flat look in his eye. When he pulled out a screwdriver and said something I didn’t need a translator. Of course I begged. What would you have done, tough guy?
“Please, please don't. Please just listen to me. Listen to me for a minute. You, you, speak English? Please just listen to me.”
The snake on his neck rippled as the muscles beneath it moved. It almost looked alive. “Why should I care what you have to say? You are dead already."
He knelt on my neck, crushing my windpipe with his shin. With both hands he dropped all his weight into the screwdriver and plunged it into my chest – I heard my rib cage collapse. I felt my heart convulse as the screwdriver punched through. The hot stuff of life pooled in my lower back. With each beat, my heart tore itself to pieces on the screwdriver. And then, I swear to God, the bastard twisted the handle.
My breath came ragged. Even as my limbs went cold, I could feel the warm blood on my skin. When the darkness finally closed over my eyes, I was grateful.
Then came the rat.
I became aware of sharp claws on my chest and the twitching of whiskers as he brushed my face. When I was alive, I would have been quick to tell you that rats can't talk. All I can say is, the rules change after you die. The rat had a question. "Do you want revenge?” he asked.
I had a question too, “Am I dead?”
He flicked his tail over the screwdriver embedded in my chest. “Yeah, you're dead,” said the rat. “Now I'm asking. Do you want revenge?”
Revenge, I thought. It's all I've ever really wanted. Revenge for being born. Revenge for those bastards in the 7th grade. Revenge for that shitty job. Yeah, revenge sounded good. So I told the rat. Not so much in words, but he got the drift.
“Then here’s the deal,” said the rat. Before my eyes I saw pages of contracts fly by – paragraph, chapter and verse. “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” I said. “What’s the short version?”
The rat drew a claw across the inside of my forearm, tearing open the skin. The wound was red, but no blood flowed from it. “You have until that turns black.”
“I can’t tell time by scratch. How long is that?”
“About two weeks,” said the rat.
“Then why not just say two weeks?”
“That’s not how it’s done,” said the rat. “It’s better this way. This way, you’ll be properly motivated to kill the men who killed you. A small favor for bringing you back from the grave.”
“For bringing me back to life, yeah.”
“Not back to life, just back.”
“So if it’s just a favor, why the contract?”
“The living are fickle. They change their minds a lot,” said the rat, “But the dead always keep their promises.”
“Okay, whatever. Revenge? I’m in.” What else was I going to say? At the time, I even thought it was some kind of dream. And I wanted revenge.
Then the rat breathed into my mouth, swirling vapors of creepy, mystical nonsense. I didn't feel anything, and then the scabby little bastard bit my top lip. I felt that. My whole body felt pain. It was worse than dying, and I knew what that feels like.
I sat up with the screwdriver still in my chest. My last words had been awful, begging for my life. I wish I could tell you that my first words back were better, but they weren't. "Wh-, wh-, wh-, wh-, what, what happened?" The rat climbed up on the dumpster and screeched at me. I think it was laughter.
Now nothing hurt. Everything worked. The screwdriver in my chest didn't even seem to matter. I looked at the rat and asked the obvious question, “So who is this guy?”
“Someone I want dead.”
“Jesus,” I said, “even rats hate this guy. He must be one serious bastard. And what happens if I can't do it?”
“Oh, that's okay,” said the rat. “Then I get your soul.”
“Whatever, I don't believe in any of that crap anyway.”
The rat laughed and said, “Oh, but it believes in you.”
Then I asked the rat about my powers. The rat laughed again. The rat wasn't going to help me. He didn't really didn't want me to win. The
I wasn't invincible. Turns out I was just unkillable.
* * * * *
How screwed was I? I wasn't dead, but I wasn't alive. Some slippery Cossack had violated my heart with a Phillips head screwdriver and then a rat had brought me back to life on the condition that I solve a motiveless murder and take my revenge. Otherwise, he was going to take my soul.
How screwed was I? The only real clue I had to go on was that the murder was my own. And, as I was dead, was I really a reliable witness?
After the rat scampered up a drainpipe, I lay in the alley for hours turning it over and over in my head. Not knowing what to do. Not too sure why to do whatever it was I was going to do. It’s not like I had a lot of motivation when I was alive. Now that I was dead – well, you see the trouble.
A garbage truck lumbered into the alley like a prehistoric monster. As I scurried out of the headlights, I could see the driver’s eyes go wide. I don't know what he imagined he saw, but it was funny to me. Come on, back alleys? This city? There’s no way I was his first corpse.
I wandered the streets for hours. Could have been weeks, could have been minutes, my perception of time was all messed up. I was pretty sure the sun didn't rise or set. A girl with heavy black eyeliner, messed up on something, stopped to stare at the screwdriver still sticking out of my chest.
“Whoa, look at that T-shirt,” she said.
I didn’t really know what she was talking about at the time. It’s not like the screwdriver hurt. I felt like I was at the end of a long hard night, but I wasn't drunk. I didn't have a hangover either. I didn't feel alive. I mean obviously I didn’t feel alive, but all my senses were a little bit duller. The only way I can describe it is to say that the only way that I knew I was moving, that I knew that the world and I were still real, was because I could feel the shock of my footsteps bouncing up my legs.
The weirdest part was that I wasn't hungry. I couldn’t remember the last time I ate. It had to be over 12 hours ago. Shouldn’t I be hungry? It’s really hard to wrap your head around the idea of being dead.
From somewhere down the block I smelled bacon and greasy food, but it did nothing for me. No bacon? I loved bacon. My New Year's resolution had been to eat more bacon.
I headed that way out of curiosity more than anything else. It was a diner, one of those all-hours places that thrives on the late night crowd. It was narrow and well-lit with a few tables and a long Formica counter that stretched so far back into the building it made you wonder if the year 1953 wasn't sitting at the other end with his tie undone, drinking burnt coffee and pushing hashbrowns around on a plate with his fork.
Right up front was one of the bastards that killed me. One of those shaven-headed twin-looking guys was sitting there just like anybody else might. Like one of the innocents of the world. A guy just off the night shift, throwing down some eggs and rushing home in time to say good morning to the kids. And that's what really made me angry. Angrier than the fact that he held me down while his boss had drove a screwdriver into my chest.
The screwdriver was still there. I looked down at it. The whole thing still didn't make any sense, but a couple parts of it clicked together.
No, I'd never really hurt anybody before. The whole thought of it had made me squeamish. But now, I don't know what it was; I didn't feel squeamish at all. Just angry, really angry.
I slid the screwdriver out of my chest and headed for the door.
Nobody paid attention to me. I was just another drunk or tweaker, come to this clean well-lit place, maybe to feed, maybe to die. Just another night in a city so crowded you were forced to rub elbows with all kinds of people. People built up blind spots like a callous, not seeing the guy on the street begging for change or smelling the guy sitting next to you on the subway. Not even pausing in conversation when the street preacher shoved a bullhorn in your face and cried, "REPENT!"
Did that ever work out for the preacher? I wondered about it as I stood and looked at the back of Tweedledumber's head. Could I spin the fat bastard around on his stool and scream – "REPENT" and he'd never do it again? Probably not, all the evidence pointed against it.
Better odds with the screwdriver.
I took a step closer. I could hear him breathing heavily through his mouth as he chewed. Ugh. He chewed with his mouth open. He slurped his coffee. I hated the zit on the back of his head. Was he loved? Was he feared? Did he have family?
Oh, I thought about all of these things – I just didn't care. My heart was truly and actually cold.
Why didn't he turn around? Couldn't he feel me staring at the back of his head? I guess not. After all, I wasn't really there. I wasn't even breathing. Turns out it's easy to sneak up on people when you're dead(ish).
I wrapped my fingers around his eyes and punched the screwdriver through the back of his skull. The short order cook didn't even notice as Tweedledumber let out a strange cough and slumped over dead in his eggs.
From the back of the restaurant, someone roared an incomprehensible string of consonants.
You know I never thought to wonder where the other guy went. But where there's a Tweedledumber, somewhere out there, there's got to be a Tweedledumbest.
He was bigger than the guy I'd just killed. He bellowed again and charged. Bloodlust was on him, and I didn't have time to explain that I didn't have any blood to sate him. The beast of a man hit a busboy so hard the poor kid spun around twice before he fell down.
I'd like to tell you I did something really cool. That I calmly pulled the screwdriver out of the dead guys’ skull, and then, with the precision of a James Bond villain, threw it the length of the diner and stuck it right between Tweedledumbest’s eyes. That I just stood there, ice in my veins as his corpse slid to a stop across the tile, mere inches from my feet. And then, after a moment of stunned silence, the jaded late-night crowd had roared in applause at my display of skill and daring. That the turbulent adulation of strangers came crashing down upon me in waves because I had released two evil men from the world.
But you and I both know the world doesn’t work like that.
I stood there, with a stupid look on my face, as he tackled me. We crashed through the plate glass window and tumbled onto the sidewalk.
When I picked myself up, I had just enough time to notice shards of glass sticking out my forearm.
Tweedledumbest roared again, and then he kicked me out into traffic. I turned into the glare of the headlights. I think I heard the horn – I'm not sure. There had to be a horn, right?
* * * * *
I was sure I was dead. Again. I mean, you get hit by a car and you're done for, right? But I had already been done, and nothing was what I had expected. In the cartoons, when somebody gets hit by a car, the car runs over them and then the car goes on without them. In fact, the character usually peels themselves up off the pavement and is little worse for the wear.
That didn't happen to me. I was dragged. My left arm was caught up in something. I tried to pull it free, but I couldn’t. In my defense, I was a little distracted by the noise the side of my head made as it ground along the tarmac.
The car and I hit a pothole. I heard my left arm snap, and I broke free of the car. Then I was tumbling, sliding, tumbling again.
As I struggled to my feet, another car swerved to miss me. Its mirror caught my arm and spun me around. By the time I stopped spinning, I was pointed back the way I came. Somehow, I was still standing. Somehow, I was still, what, alive? Whatever, I didn’t have time to deal with existential confusion.
Five blocks away, I could see Tweedledumbest running towards me down the middle of the street, bellowing in rage.
What could I do? He was huge, he was angry, and pieces of me were falling off. My left arm didn't work. One of my knees was all funny. I ran.
I guess I didn't run so much as shamble. I realized there was no way I could lose him, and no way I could take him without the element o
So I stood with my back to the water. As my heels dangled over the edge, I lifted my arms to him like a pure icon of Christian forgiveness. As he charged, blinded with rage for the loss of his friend or twin or lover (What did I care or know?), I hugged him close and I let my corpse fall into the black water of the harbor.
He clawed for the surface and I clawed for him.
We struggled and made white foam amid the oil and the bits of trash. He fought to stay afloat, and I fought to keep a hold. With my right hand, I grabbed his belt and let myself dangle. He was a big man carrying extra weight, but still he had a lot of muscle. He was pretty dense.
The cold black water began to take its toll on him. I slung my left arm around like a club and hooked a finger in his eye. As we sank, his face was the last thing to go under.
What did I care? It's not like I needed to breathe. I was dead, remember?
He struggled, hard at first, and then less and less. As we settled into the thick muck at the bottom of the river he gave a few final twitches. I figured that meant my work was done.
I tried to get up, but it was no use; I had 275 pounds of dead Slav on my chest, and he wasn't going anywhere for a while. I was trapped and sinking into the mud. But that’s just the way it was with the afterlife, it just kept getting better and better.
How screwed was I?
* * * * *
How screwed was I? Sure, I’d killed two of the three guys who had murdered me, but where had that gotten me? Now I was being pressed into the black mud at the bottom of a dirty river by a corpse that was too heavy for me to move. Tits ahoy and Hallelujah, didn’t this just taste of victory?
I still had no idea what was up with that rat, and believe me; I had time to think about it. I had time to think about everything. Jesus, I was dead. Granted, getting killed had been quickly overshadowed by being brought back to life, but one step at a time. I was dead. What did that mean? There’d been no light, no feeling of universal peace, and no choir of angels. Just that rat, the dirty alley and a lot of confusion. So either there was none of that Hosanna Heysanna afterlife bullshit, or I had gotten the shaft yet again.
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