The fourth year of 31 Days of Haunts features a film noir story about Malone the undead detective, trying to solve his latest case.
It was another shitty night. I was in one of my usual shitty moods and the bottle of rot-gut was playing it’s favorite din. Singing songs that were just out of my key. If I had it my way, that bottle would be empty and tossed in a larger pile of bottles, left to collect roaches looking to score a free nip. But alas, I was a soldier of misfortune, cursed to always look and never taste on account of my goddamned jaw being elsewhere. Where you may ask? Hell if I know. You’d think I would've found out by now, me being a private dick and all.
I was just about to self medicate this chronic case of “fuck-my-life” with some blunt force trauma to the head when the door opened and she walked in. I immediately forgot what I was bitchin’ about. I forgot everything. This dame... No, dame’s a dirty word. She was an angel.
Some Twisted Dream
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought it was some twisted dream. The kind you never want to wake up from. She was alive. A living, breathing, blood pumping woman. And she was crying all over me.
Once I remembered my name and manners she spilled her guts. She told me her name was Grace Nightingale. Turns out she was hooked on some new kind of smack called "Easter Sunday". Folks who took it found themselves feeling like St. Peter gave em a second chance. The catch was once it wore off you were knocking on the reaper’s front door. She was looking to get off the stuff once and for all. When I asked why she would want to go back to being a dirt eater she clammed up. Started giving vagaries and mumblings. I would have pressed further but she stopped me when she forced some dirty greenbacks into my hand. She wanted me to find a cure. An antidote. Anything to get her clean, so to speak. Hard to argue with those eyes.
Dirge City: Where the nightmares from topside try to eek out some kind of a measly existence in a rat maze of filth and bones. I live in Ipswitch, one of the lower lower burroughs where it always smells like stale urine. If the urine starts to smell fresh you’ve gone too far. I used to have a place in downtown proper, amongst the highbrows and pinky waggers, but that was back when I gave a damn. After a long string of broken hearts, asshole clients and loan sharks, it was only a matter of time before I was looking to hole away somewhere where even the rats won’t give their own ass to bite ya. It was a shithole of a city. But it was my city.
Shadowing the Lead
Grace gave me a lead. Some mule she gets her drugs from. He wasn’t hard to spot. The dog looked like he just woke up from a month long bender and was gearing up for round two. Attracted lots of needy types. I watched him push his goods on folks who shoulda been buying a hot meal. He didn’t seem to care who they were as long as they were shelling out the dough. He was a real piece of shit.
I did what I do best. I became his shadow and waited for my opening.
A Taste for Bricks
The mule made a wrong turn down a dark alley and I figured it was as nice a time as any to get this runt acquainted with the taste of the bricks. And the pavement. And a trashcan or two. Just a little taste, to get his mouth working again. And boy, did it start flappin’. Most of what he spilled was as useless as he was. I was only interested in meeting the cook who made Gracie’s smack. He said he didn’t know. He just pushed the shit. Big surprise. I was warming up my knuckles for another game of “What breaks first? Your teeth or my fist?” when he gave me an address. Said he doesn’t know nothing (of course not) but he heard that was where the stuff came from (sure it does). I’d lost my appetite for busting heads and I didn’t have any other leads. It seemed worth checking out as soon as I checked back on Grace. I took the smack he was holding and I left the mule bleating.
I got back to my place and Grace was right where I left her. Only she’d gone through a whole pack of smokes and her hair was turning white. The drugs were wearing off. Luckily I had what I lifted off the mule.
She was in a sorry state. She was too weak to move and too shook up to make any sense. She collapsed in my arms and I lost myself again. She smelled like wilting flowers and her skin was so warm. Her heart full of life and hope for a better someday that will never come. So fragile. So scared. This was the kind of woman that makes you want to cry from the peace she makes you feel. The kind men go to war over.
Ferryman Shipping Co.
I rode the train till I noticed most of the passengers getting on were missing digits. The docks. That’s where the mule led me. And standing there in the center of all the bird shit and fish guts was Ferryman Shipping Co. Run by the infamous Charon of legend and religious poetry. He owned everything this side of the River Styx. If anyone knew what might be coming in or out of his turf, it would be him.
One Stubborn S.O.B.
Interrogation is a tricky thing. Usually my fists do the talking for me and folks seem to get the message. Other times, when the situation requires a more delicate touch, I use the notepad. It’s not as elegant as a haymaker, but at least I get to draw tits on it when I’m bored. Simple pleasures.
Charon turned out to be one stubborn son of a bitch. Everything I threw his way was met with a deafening silence. Ever heard of this drug “Easter Sunday”? Nothing. Know who deals it? Zilch. Know who might be cooking it? Room tone. He must of been a real charmer at Thanksgiving Dinner. I thanked him for the heaping pile of nothing and hoofed it. I figured maybe I could poke around the nearby warehouses and accidentally bust some locks, but a couple of bruisers politely escorted me out by way of the garbage chute. This case was looking more dead in the water than the sorry schmucks doing backstrokes in the Styx.
I made a stop at a flower shop. The flowers were brown. I felt like an idiot. She would think they were stupid. She would put them in a vase. She would look at them and sigh. She probably would have done all that… had I not stopped at the flower shop. But I did.
Her head lay at a funny angle. Her once blue eyes were now as pale as her porcelain skin. The drugs I had left with her, enough to last us a couple more days, lay strewn around her body smashed to bits. Someone did this to her. But judging by the hole where my front door used to be, I was guessing it was more of a something. My derailed thoughts were cut short by a quiet squeak followed with an avalanche.
Felt like a train from hell hit me. For a second I thought “Thank god. This whole nightmare is over. Someone’s come to put me out of my misery”. That was when my soliloquy was cut short with a right hook that made my brain go jelly. Stars invaded my apartment. I got real intimate with the insulation in my walls. This mook was giving the place a remodel job and he was using me as the sledgehammer. I know I can be a bit of a tool sometimes but this was ridiculous.
Luckily I had a tool of my own. My swiss army knife of death. Always kept it close to my heart for times like these. I gave the avalanche all six. I may as well have been blowing bubbles at him.
I hadn’t been in a brawl like that since my ex found me with my other ex. Only that fight didn’t end with them getting hit by a bus. I stumbled through the streets in a daze, barely able to keep the sidewalk from turning into the sky. I found a nice comfy gutter to fall into and proceeded to black the fuck out.
When I came to, I found myself swimming in a sea of red velvet and smelling salts being shoved in my nose holes. Lilith was patching me up. Turned out one of her girls found me bleeding out, using a rat as a pillow. She dragged me back to Lilith’s house of flesh, The Garden. It was a high class joint for Ipswitch. Real elegant like. All sorts of creatures visited this den of harpis looking to get their rocks off and their jimmies jangled. I usually came for the conversation. Lilith always had the latest “he said, she said” that had helped me close my fair share of cases in the past. Plus she had a body that could make you think you died and went to heaven.
She told me I could lay low there until I was on my feet again, which was convenient because it felt like my feet were going on strike. My body was numb. My mind wasn’t. It was on fire. And in those flames all I could see was Grace, twisted and broken on my floor. Her blood painting my walls. Dripping in my eyes and blinding me. Who the hell did this to her? And when the hell could I do the same to them?
Boys in Blue
It didn’t take long for the boys in blue to show up. But they weren’t there for a tomorrow morning of regret, they were there to haul my ass to the slammer. Captain “Dick Breath” Ninetails personally slapped the bracelets on me. Charged me with the murder of Grace. Said I was getting the axe for it. Made a lot of noise. Too much noise.
Why was Grace so important to them? Hell, these guys had never looked so speedy. They usually took their sweet ass time doing any actual police work like this. Hard to find time when you’re so busy extorting and strong arming folks who look at you funny. None of this sat right with me. It churned in my gut. I was being set up. Most likely by someone with enough power to buyout the fuzz. Someone who wanted me to disappear.
I realized my evening was turning out to be a never ending river of shit when we passed right by the DCBF building and started cruising the back roads. They weren’t planning on locking me up. Probably too much paperwork for their short attention spans. They were just gonna finish it themselves, the way they usually did. Tie me to the grill of their ride and play chicken with a brick wall. They’d make it look like an accident. Everyone would know better, but no one would make a fuss. The long arm of the law had a chokehold on this city.
My usual death wish was now riding shotgun to my pesky temper. I wasn’t going down without a fight. Maybe I could take a few of these guys with me. But I was slow to the draw. The boys were on me before I could even blink, holding me down, tearing my shirt open and plunging a syringe into my crusty heart. The last thing I saw before the blue light took me was Captain Ninetails counting a wad of dough.
Out of the Womb
I was wet. Wet and cold. I could smell everything. The pavement. The blood leaking from my scuffed palms. The trash and bile floating in the gutter. A high pitched ringing blanketed the sounds of Ninetails belching out a snide laugh as him and his goons drove away. Their tail lights blinded my eyes. I felt like I just fell 20 stories out of the womb and landed on a bed of pain. Real pain. No longer dulled by my once undead nerves. But the high… God, that high. I never felt so alive.
I was royally fucked.
End of the Line
Dirge City is no place for a meatsack. I’d only have to throw a rock to hit someone or something that would’ve wanted to eat me up. Or worse.
I stuck to the shadows. I meandered through the back alleys. I played hop frog with the skyline. Nowhere was safe for me. This is how Grace must have felt. So hopeless and alone with no one to turn to. Counting down the minutes till either a living nightmare ripped her apart or the drugs wore off and she was stone cold. It was the end of the line for me. But I figured if I’m going out, then I may as well scratch one last itch. I found the red glow of the Garden and headed towards one last debaucherous hoorah.
Fight, Flight, Fuck
I didn’t know who to fight. All my leads were dead ends. I didn’t know where to run. Nowhere was safe. Only thing left to do was fuck. And drink. And take a truckload of mind altering uppers and downers. Me, Lilith and her soiree of dames made Sodom and Gomorrah look like Sunday school. The joint dripped. I lost myself in a sea of limbs and musk. Lilith did me right. She made me forget everything. I was gonna die happy. Or at least some imitation of happiness.
The second act will be starting shortly!
Wake Up Call
(Don’t do this!)
A woman screamed and I woke up, only to find her cries for help staying behind in dreamland. Her face didn’t though. That stuck with me like a red hot coal nestled deep in my gray matter. The images flashed in and out. I didn’t know what I was seeing. Was it a nightmare? Or was it a memory? The woman reminded me of Grace, but then again, she reminded me of every woman I’ve ever met.
There was no more sleep for me now. No more drinks or wet skin. Just pure unadulterated terror.
Can't Run From Death
(Nowhere to run...)
The visions wouldn’t let up. It was hard to know what was real and what was just brain fog. I pried myself from the briar patch of tits and ass and stepped outside for some fresh air. Just to clear my head. But my feet kept moving. And the faster my feet moved the less I saw of her.
I ran into the dark with a nightmare clipping at my heels. I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what was happening. Some side effect from the Easter Sunday flowing through my veins? Possibly. A bad trip from the copious amount of drugs I just took? Most likely. Whatever it was, it was taking years off of me. I could feel my energy draining. My knees aching. My lungs burning. I was dying.
Shut Up And Drive
(Nowhere to hide…)
Easter Sunday was on a fast track to midnight and I was walking worm food. I needed this out of my system. I needed what I was never able to give Gracie. A way out. It wouldn’t come easily.
After some frantic searching, I managed to dig up my old friend Captain “Shit-for-brains” Ninetails. The look on his face when I stuck my Death Rattle in his ear. Priceless. I told him to drive and his leadfoot listened. We soared out of Dirge City like a bat out of hell, straight into the boonies known as The Witching Woods. I was pulling a hail-mary. One with a hefty price tag.
(I promise I’ll make it quicker than I normally prefer.)
I was trying to decide between using Ninetails as a spare tire or leaving him in the surrounding woods for the big nasties to find when the car suddenly swerved. Ninetails barely missed a giant boulder laying smack in the middle of the road. I watched the huge rock grow smaller in our red tail lights. Then I watched it grow. The shit just kept coming.
In no time at all we found ourselves blaring down the country roads, the roof to the car peeled back like a sardine can and the hulking Avalanche that almost did me in trying to turn us into roadkill. I knew it was useless, but I emptied all I had into the gargoyle’s face. He didn’t like that. Not one bit. The Avalanche brought itself down on us and the next thing I know we’re sailing through the air, straight off the road, cutting a highway through the treetops.
(You don’t have to do this!)
Somehow I managed to walk away with only a dislocated shoulder, a broken hand, a few cracked ribs, some internal bleeding, road rash across my back, and a bloody face. So not all bad. I found the road and hobbled along the rest of the way. I had no idea what happened to Ninetails, the car or The Avalanche so I had to keep things quiet. Hard to do when every step you take feels like some kind of new torture.
I was just about to collapse, and nearly did, when I arrived at Hecate’s house. With the over abundant collection of lawn ornaments, it was hard to miss. A mangy black dog sat guard by the door which cracked open all by itself, beckoning me in. It was all I could do to stay upright. Luckily the dog was friendlier than it looked and gave me something to lean on. I soon found out it was more interested in licking the blood gushing out of me than anything else. I couldn’t blame him. Seemed everyone wanted a pound of my flesh lately.
That Old Time Religion
(You’re not getting it sweets. I live for this.)
The air buzzed. My skin prickled. Magic hummed off everything in that house. And in the center of all that occultish grandstanding was Hecate. The queen witch herself. Or I guess I should say all three of herselves. I’d heard plenty of stories about her. They said she was a miracle worker. Or a curse weaver. Depends on which version of her you get. Just my luck I got stuck with the old hag.
It was like she already knew I was coming. She had a cauldron boiling and got to work stripping me down. I was going in the pot. At this point my second thoughts were having second thoughts. Like I could do anything about it though. I was on the reaper’s doorstep. Plus there was something in the steam. Made me all fuzzy and calm. As the green fumes blinded me, all I could hear were the screams of the woman in my head, and the sound of thunder splitting the sky in half.
The Hard Dunk
(Don’t look baby...)
I had hoped Hecate’s home brew would have been a pleasant experience. Like coming in out of the cold and taking a nice hot bath. But it wasn’t. It hurt like a bitch. Every time I tried to get out of the pot she pushed me right back in and held me under. I wanted to pass out and wake up when the whole thing was over. But like I said, I got stuck with the hag. And those goddamned nightmares. They ripped me apart until all that was left was carrion and fear.
Hefty Price Tag
(I want her to look. I like an audience.)
Eventually she tipped the pot over and out I spilled like the first catch of the day. Looks like Hecate’s reputation wasn’t just a bunch of hot air. I was still alive… sort of. She managed to get the Easter Sunday out of my system, but I was back where I started. Undead and full of regret. When it came time to settle up she wouldn’t take any of my dough. Said it was useless to her. What she wanted was what I most cherished. Something I would miss… Why couldn’t I have gotten any of the other broads?
Resurrecting Dead Leads
(Bang, Crash, Boom!)
I took one of Hecate’s broomsticks. She wasn’t too pleased but I was beyond caring at that point. I was given a second chance and I was mad as hell. Someone was going to pay for all the shit I just went through. My leads were still cold as the grave, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try the docks again. That’s where the drugs were coming from. It also happened to be where things started taking a turn South for me. I was sure if I poked around I’d come up with something to pummel eventually.
Rooster in the Hen House
(Don’t cry sweetheart.)
Looks like I caught the rooster in the hen house.
There they all were: The Avalanche, Charon, and a fuckin’ vampire. One of his goons called him Varney. He seemed to be the man in charge. The walking mosquito looked familiar, but I couldn’t for the life of me place his face. While the big boys talked, the goons were busy busting their asses on a new shipment of crates. Blue light peeked out from between the boards. It was Easter Sunday. And it was getting loaded onto some trucks. Most likely getting shipped out to more sorry saps in the lower burroughs of Dirge.
I had ‘em all right where I wanted ‘em. It was time to bring the big hurt.
Old Testament Reckoning
(You’re mommy was a bad lady.)
Nothing livens up a joint like a couple of flaming cocktails. The place lit up like a fireworks factory. Half of the goons went the way of the ashtray, while Charon disappeared to god knows where and Varney scampered away into the sewers. Leaving me alone, yet again, with my best friend The Avalanche. He did not look happy… Come to think of it, he never looked happy. But this time he looked like he was ready for a real knock-down, drag-out, old testament reckoning. And I didn’t aim to disappoint.
(She did bad things with bad people...)
The warehouse was getting a little too toasty for my liking. With the Avalanche out of the way I jumped down the sewers in hot pursuit of Varney. It wasn’t long before I was nipping at his heels. He took us down, down, down the drain of Dirge. Through all the twisting forgotten places. The deeper we descended, the more the nightmares came back. The screaming in my head. The blood pouring like a faucet, so dark it looked as black as the sewage I was tripping through. Looks like Hecate’s remedy wasn’t a cure-all. I’d have to remember to go ask for a refund… If I managed to get out of this shit storm in one piece.
(And bad people get punished…)
I turned a corner and stopped. It was hard to make heads or tails of what I was seeing. Dozens of lost souls reclining into the living bliss of Easter Sunday. Drugs went in one arm, blood came out the other, shipped away in bottles for freezing and storage. Varney oozed out of the shadows. Told me my pursuits were at an end. These people came willingly to make a deposit in his blood bank. The price of their lives they gave gladly, as long he kept ‘em warm with the blue shit. Went on about how he was providing a service, one gravely needed. One that kept his kind from starving in the streets. Said Dirge City is a feeding ground for the elite. All he was doing was leveling the playing field, and giving these poor schmucks a slice of heaven in the process.
Then he did the one thing I was expecting the least: He offered me a position as his newest customer. Non-stop Easter Sunday and regular blood offerings.
(...by monsters like me.)
As he stood there offering me a ride back into the electric blue nirvana all I could think about was Grace. The way she looked at me. The way she smelled. The way she cracked something hard, deep down inside my chest cavity. Made me feel like I actually belonged to something bigger than myself. And how all of that got ripped away from me.
Her blood painted the walls of my memory. I could still hear her screaming in my head. Odd thing was, I wasn’t there when she died. So who did this screaming belong to? Was it this woman in my waking nightmares? The one who looked like every woman I’ve ever known? But now there was a child-- oh god.
It was like muscle memory kicked in and before I knew it I was givin’ Varney my answer to his proposition. The answer I was best at. The blood… the screaming… the killing.
(And monsters like me…)
Somewhere, sometime, someplace. Not in Dirge. Before Dirge… I was a killer. A savage blood thirsty killer. One who took joy out of the terror he could sow. As long as there was money falling in my pockets, the slugs were flying. The broad that seemed to forever be screaming in my head, she was one of the good ones. One of the career highlights. A two for one deal. That was when I got the nickname that preceded into folks’ brains before my bullets did: The Ladykiller.
The Din and the Dirge
(...got quite the appetite for punishment.)
No one seemed to mind that Varney was dead. They just kept sucking back that Easter Sunday. Grace was avenged, there was no one left to punch, and I was done with it all. I left them to their blue fantasies feeling sick to my stomach.
Looks like old habits die hard. Here I was, thinking I was helping people. Sure I was charging ‘em money, but still, I was helping. But nothing changes down here in the undertow, where your demons put on new masks and set up shop in what’s left of your soul. You go about your undead life, thinking you’re someone you’re really not. And just when you’ve forgotten everything, those demons come out to play.
Par for the fuckin course in this goddamned city. The city that lives in death, howling to the moon for a break that’ll never come. Harmonizing with the din and the Dirge.