Madhouse, page 16
But this was about Sawney and the revenants. If and how she could help us now was what was important, not wondering about the ethical implications of her diet. “He’s in the subway tunnels,” I said, hooking a leg around the chair leg and wearily resting my elbows on the table, “with a whole shitload of revenants.”
“We saw at least forty.” Niko picked up the story.
“And there could be more. They’re oddly organized. They act as one with none of the usual revenant squabbling and infighting. We’ve enlisted a boggle, but I don’t believe that even she will be enough. Not if Sawney is there with them this time.”
Delilah tapped her foot against the floor with eyes distant for several seconds. “Sawney is Sawney. Not Kin business. But…” Her upper lip, now blood-free, lifted with distaste. “He is careless. He brings attention. Bad attention. Kin will not help, not you.” Tracing a reflective finger along the tattooed wolf eyes around her neck, she said, “But I will help.” She took a drink from a passing tray and popped a slice of orange in her mouth. “If price is acceptable.”
“I thought the Kin wouldn’t help us. You are Kin,” Niko pointed out, gray eyes focused with skeptical caution. It had been his plan to ask for her assistance, but while he was capable of trust and truth, you had to earn it.
“I am Kin, but I am also free,” she announced as if it were common knowledge.
“Free being?” I asked.
She tossed back the rest of the drink and gave a sly smile. “Not caught.”
Delilah was a wolf of her word. She took the pay, and two days later she showed up in the tunnel as shown on the map of the Second Avenue subway project Niko had sketched on a bar napkin. She also brought four other wolves with her. Big ones, all half-and-halfs and wearing hooded sweatshirts to cover the fact. It didn’t stop an experienced eye from spotting the glitter of golden-brown irises, thickened black nails, and jagged teeth made for the ripping out of throats.
Niko, Promise, Robin, Boggle, Delilah with her wolves, and me, if we couldn’t take care of the problem, we might as well grab a walker, move south with the snowbirds, and let Sawney have New York.
“Did you leave the kiddies with a nanny?” Robin asked as he looked up at the boggle. He didn’t have any better memories from the fight with her mate than Niko or I did. It showed in the wary distance he kept from her.
From the contemptuous snap of her jaw and gale-force snort of rancid air, she managed to say without words that the boglets would do just fine on their own. I wasn’t sure where she’d gotten into the tunnel system to eventually meet us, but I doubted it had involved a MetroCard.
“This is quite the mix.” Promise’s hair was in a braid this time, one woven with black cord, then wrapped in a thick club at the base of her neck. She smiled to show the tips of pointed canines. “The very best parties always are.”
In contrast, Delilah was already frowning in impatience. “We go now. Skipped dinner. Mealtime is now.”
“You didn’t eat simply to work up an appetite for this?” Niko had brought his axe again and raised it slightly in respectful salute. “You are the warrior.”
“Devious and ravishing.” Robin sidled closer. He’d made the sacrifice called for by filthy tunnel water and wore jeans. My jeans. He didn’t own any. Hit men after his ass he had plenty of, but casual wear for revenant hunting—that he was lacking.
“Devious, ravishing.” She snuffled his hair, neck, and shoulder and it wasn’t in what I would call a sexual way. “Hungry.”
“All right, then. Moving along. Let us return Sawney to the hell from whence he came.” Goodfellow was in the lead and moving with alacrity. He was armed with a sword, as was Promise. I had my guns, and the wolves and the boggle had what nature gave them. As we moved, Boggle…if she had a name, she also wasn’t sharing…slid under the water with the slow grace of a crocodile. When she surfaced, the mud was gone, and her mottled scales held the pattern of an entire desert full of rattlesnakes. Then she went under again. The water here had been thigh deep; now it was almost waist high. It didn’t cover her completely. You could still see the ridge of her spine and the glow of her eyes in the dim light, but she moved fast. So fast that within seconds she had disappeared—past Goodfellow and gone.
“You know, I’m not quite sure she’ll need the rest of us after all,” Robin remarked.
She had something beyond what her mate had possessed—more speed, more decisiveness, more of a predatory nature. I’d thought how our past informant had been content to sit and wait for his prey to come to him. This boggle, she wouldn’t be. I’d made an assumption that all boggles were happy to dwell in their mud until dinner wandered by to be mutilated. It wasn’t true. She would range, she would hunt…she chased down her prey, and having seen her in motion, I didn’t think she would have it any other way.
It’d be fucking fantastic if she were the answer to our Sawney problem, but I knew better. Things were never that easy. And insanity, like Sawney had in spades, carried you a long-ass way.
We found that out in less than an hour. The tunnel we ended up in was long abandoned and most likely long forgotten. The lights had gone dark who knew when and remained that way. No one had come to replace burned-out bulbs. No one came for anything as far as I could tell. Niko, Robin, and I carried flashlights. No one else needed them. The wolves and Promise got by easily on our reflected light and I didn’t know if the boggle needed light at all. As for what the revenants required…bump into it in the dark. If it’s not cold and clammy, take a bite out of it. You didn’t need light for that. Revenants weren’t smart, but they didn’t have to be, and the fact that Sawney had somehow lifted them an IQ point or two only made things worse for us. Worse being?
They came out of the water.
I thought the massive swell was the boggle at first, because they rose as one. Boggle was what my mind expected and so for a split second that’s what I saw. Then reality—at least forty more revenants, six inches from us. Six inches. They couldn’t have surrounded us as at least one of us would’ve felt them under the water as we passed them, but this…this was right up there with being the next best thing. I couldn’t have smelled them separately from the ever-present rank decomposition already in these unused tunnels anyway. The wolves might have, though, if those revenant sons of bitches hadn’t been covered with several feet of sluggishly flowing, horrifically ripe water. Now that several feet had become six goddamn inches and we were beyond screwed.
Niko and I were in the lead, having just traded off with Delilah and Promise ten minutes ago. The four other wolves were strung out loosely behind their silver-haired Alpha, and Robin was pulling rear guard.
Six inches. I kept thinking it, but it bore repeating. I was so close to the revenant that I could see the poreless stretch of pallid skin stretched across bone. I could see that behind the thick coating of white that covered their eyes was a fine tracery of purple veins, the size of a stream of spider silk, and that the lips had no lines in them. Lastly, I saw that every tooth in every yellowed grin was flecked with dried blood like speckling on a quail’s egg.
Such a short distance, and it let me see more detail than I wanted. It also let me jam the Glock in the belly of the revenant before me and blow his spine in half. Six inches…six miserable inches, it isn’t the space you want between you and a hungry foe, but at least you don’t have to aim. Unfortunately, the same was true for them. They passed over us in a wave. No specific attacks on individuals—tidal waves don’t do that. They just take you the hell down. Drowning in the ocean’s version of a sucker punch wouldn’t be pleasant; drowning in tainted tunnel water and moistly putrid flesh wasn’t any better.
I lost the flashlight. I lost the Glock too, but that was purposeful. I let it go and went for my blades. One was the serrated knife, a mercenary magazine special, and the other a kukri. Niko had shown me how to be effective with the minimachete. Now I was ready to give the same lesson to a revenant or ten. I came up from the
It wasn’t easy getting back up to air—air to breathe, air to slash metal through. It was a process of clawing and stabbing and biting. If you wanted to give a label to something that already had the perfect one: Survive. Process. Method. Survival. When I surged upward, I was spitting out something other than water. They weren’t dead, they weren’t decomposing, but damned if they didn’t taste as if they were.
I kept both hands in motion, doing my best to clear the area around me. The serrated knife took out one throat; the kukri did the same but with a cleaner slice. All around was…what? The dimmest flickering of illumination from flashlights dropped underwater, a horde of white-eyed zombie wannabes, five giant wolves leaping and sending shredded intestines spilling through the air, a soaked and bloody puck and human with sword and axe, a vampire ripping an entire head from a revenant’s shoulders. What did you call that?
Hell. You called it hell, because chaos was far too pretty a word.
And where the fuck was our boggle?
Once again, they said it as one. And, I was sorry to note, that with repetition, it did not get any less freaky. It was still wrong and unnatural, even for a revenant.
Delilah catapulted over my head as I dodged one revenant’s rush and permanently ended another’s ability to move at all. I recognized her as she was the only white wolf among the minipack. The silver-blond fur was a startling glow as she soared over. Her brother Flay managed about three-fourths wolf when he changed. He could run on all fours but could walk on two as well. Delilah, as far as I could see, went all the way. Wolf through and through and big as hell. When she landed, she did what Promise had done. She removed a head, but she did it using her jaws. And then she did another and another and another. The other wolves, one with the remains of a hooded sweatshirt still tangled around his neck, were cutting their own swath, and doing the job we paid them for. All except one. Whether he was a shade slower, slightly less agile, the reason didn’t matter. What did was that he got caught. Several sharp-nailed hands managed to fasten on to him, and even more mouths bit through brownish fur to flesh and didn’t let go.
When he disappeared under the water, he didn’t come back up. I tried to make my way over in his direction and I saw Nik do the same. It was too late. The wolf was gone. Despite that, we were holding our own. We weren’t kicking ass and taking names, but we were alive, most of us, and right now that was good enough for me.
Sawney had an entirely different idea of what was good, and he brought that idea with him. Carried it along as he slithered along the wall and up on the ceiling over our heads. The knotted hair hung down over the black emptiness of his face, but the amused red shimmer of his eyes gave away his mood easily.
“Heads up!” I called to the others.
The word came from only Sawney this time with just the faintest echoing murmur from his choir. “Traveler with the frenzied taste. Madness and cream and butter.”
“Cream and butter, my ass” I said flatly. Auphe and insanity, maybe that went as hand in hand as it did with Sawney, but I damn sure didn’t want to hear about it. “You bastard.”
Over the snarls of wolves, the splashing of water, and the thudding of metal chopping through flesh, he shouldn’t have heard me. My voice didn’t have the carrying properties his did and I hadn’t shouted it, but it didn’t matter. He heard.
“Yes, traveler, cream and butter.” There was a tone of lazy contentment, as if he wasn’t hungry at the moment, not for an entire meal, but a casual taste would be all right. He wouldn’t be above that, not a connoisseur like him. Whether he would’ve tried for it or not, I didn’t find out, as another connoisseur, one of gems and metal, finally showed up.
She came through the wall. Brittle tile shattered as concrete shook, shook again, cracked, and there she was in all her glory. And right then, that was a helluva lot of glory in my eyes. Grace as well, no matter that she’d ended up in the wrong tunnel. She flowed through the large hole and up the wall, spiking her claws nearly half a foot deep through the tile to propel herself along with more speed than I would’ve thought possible for her bulk.
There are moments in life to savor and cherish, to keep and warmly recall at a later date. The flare of surprise in Sawney’s scarlet eyes was one of them. Seeing that smug bastard caught off guard for once—yeah, it was the goods. It was the shit. The absolute shit.
I flipped a revenant over my shoulder, pinned it with a knee in its back, and started to take his head. It took some doing sawing underwater, even with the commando knife, but the ones whose throats I’d slashed were slowly staggering back up their feet. They weren’t in prime fighting condition, but they were moving, they were in the way, and there was no time for that inconvenience. When, with water up to my collarbones, I jerked my attention up from the writhing revenant beneath me, I saw Boggle lunge and cover Sawney altogether. The shine of his scythe and crazy smile vanished under the ripple of scales and surging flesh.
Maybe we were going to luck out. Maybe it was going to be that easy. She would rip Sawney to pieces and we would bathe in a rain of his blood. Maybe I’d even catch a drop on my tongue like a snowflake. See what he tasted like.
Finally, I felt the spinal discs separate under my knife, and the parting of a remarkably tough spinal cord; then I was standing with my eyes still on the boggle. She was moving. The claws of her hands and feet were embedded in the ceiling, keeping her aloft, but her head was whipping back and forth. The movement was too quick for me to see him in her mouth, but I knew he was there. The only thing that would’ve made this any better was if the boggle had been wearing the pearl and diamond tiara that had been included in Promise’s payment. That would’ve been the cherry on the goddamn sundae.
“She has him.”
Niko was at my shoulder, the axe dripping in his hand. “Yeah, she has his ass,” I said with a warm glow in my gut that beat Christmas morning all to hell.
There was a particularly vicious snap of the scaled head, a sense of flight, and a brutal thud as a dark mass hit a far wall. Score one for Mama. “Don’t notch a point in the air,” came the warning. “It’s crass.” The axe took out one of my shambling revenants, who was sucking in air through his throat with a shrill whistle.
“I wasn’t going to.” An utter lie. “I do plan on punting his decapitated head like a football, though.” I flung water and gore from both knives and started toward the wall where Sawney adhered like a drying clot of blood.
Niko moved with me. “Stabbing a football isn’t the same as playing it, I hope you’re aware.”
I hadn’t played well with others when I was a kid. Invitations to baseball or football games didn’t often come after the “Your mom’s a thief and a whore.” That type of thing is hard to take from another kid, especially when it’s true. It tended to lead to lashing out. Some of that lashing out was verbal; some involved a switchblade. Better to spear a football to the gym floor than some junior high asshole’s poisonous tongue to the same polished wood. “I can kick. I kick your ass on a regular basis, don’t I?”
“No. Not once,” he shot me down ruthlessly as he swung the axe loosely, up and over. “And without vast improvement, not ever.”
Not my day for getting the bullshit through. I didn’t mind. Putting an end to that child-killing monster put a rosy glow over the entire scene. Dead and incapacitated revenants, whole and less than, floated in the water. There were wolves…eating. Robin and Promise gave them a cautious berth as they moved toward us through the water. The fur balls were on our side for the moment, but they had different dining manners than the rest of us. Get too close to their food and they might take a chunk out of you by pure instinct. Automatic and unthinking. As they were with us, they might be sorry afterward. Sev
I turned my attention back to Sawney. The redness of his eyes was barely detectable and the scythe hung limply from the ebon-skinned hand. His back was to the wall, and how he was staying suspended there, I couldn’t have guessed and didn’t bother to try. I was more interested in how he was going to come down. It was going to be hard and it was going to be messy, and I wanted to be involved in both of those.
Boggle wasn’t done with him yet, however. She soared across the open space—a cave-in, falling in a completely improbable direction. She hit Sawney and the wall and took both down. There was a cascade of tile and concrete, flesh and bone, and it all disappeared under the water about thirty feet away. Revenants and their parts bobbed in the resulting tidal rush.
“She’s not like the old boggle, is she?” Robin was unwounded except for a long scratch along his jaw, and if Promise weren’t wet, she would’ve been as pristine as before we’d entered the subway tunnel.
“He was a lazy creature.” He continued watching the water roil frantically where Boggle and Sawney had vanished. “Deadly, but content with the status quo. I doubt this one would be. She’s beyond magnificent.”
by Rob Thurman / Science Fiction & Fantasy / Mystery & Thrillers / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes