|The Golden Oldies|
|Participants||Lord Raptor, Zabel Zarock, Assorted Others|
|IC Date:||30 January 1999|
|RL Date:||30 January 2016|
|Location||Newcastle, Australia, 1999|
God damn. This was so stupid. This was by far the stupidest thing he'd ever done. As soon as his long-dead foot hit the pavement, he knew he would regret it. He didn't need a working nose to remember the smell of Newcastle, either. The stink of the twentieth century raced through his memory like the lightning through his veins. The smell of human sweat and automobile exhaust and dumpsters and cheap cologne and strong perfumes mingled in his imagination, a pool of disgustingly organic smells from a time when science couldn't solve anything. It was a bland, overpowering scent, something that arrested the mind and swallowed pleasant thoughts into itself, an amoeba of equal parts homesickness and sick-of-home-ness. He ducked into the nearest alleyway before anyone could notice him, he, the out-of-place monster that he now was.
The sight of the homeless man sprawled in the gutter and surrounded by empty bottles added urine and booze to the imaginary conglomeration. Zabel shook his head. The standards of homeless people never changed, if his encounter with that kid was anything to go by.
His sharp foot shot out to kick the man in the side. "Oy, waster!"
The man grunted and rolled over. Bleary with sleep, he stared up at the zombie, unseeing. Zabel unhinged his jaw in a diabolical grin. The homeless man sat up and stared at him without fear. Zabel wheezed a sigh, dust rattling from lungs that were more of a suggestion than a necessity, and crouched down to look the man in the eye.
"The fuck are you lookin' at, huh? Beat it. I gotta put my face on. An' I'm a little self-conscious about people seein' me dress, if y'know what I mean."
The man shrugged and slumped up against the dumpster. "Tell me about it," he groaned, "I hated my wife seein' me dress. Made me feel like I was a slab of meat on display."
Zabel attempted to frown, and failed, as he didn't have lips on at the moment. The old urges never went away, not really. The urges of body, the urges of mind. The mind took the shape of the body to some degree, perhaps, as new reflexes had taken the place of old ones, but some of them he'd never gotten rid of. He still felt the urge to use the old W.C. once in a while.
"Yeh, well," the zombie rolled his shoulders as he straightened, "Sucks t'be you, I guess."
"Looks worse to be you, mate," the bum said, "You look burned out as hell. You get dumped too?"
"Did I invite you t'have a conversation with me? Did I somehow give you the impression that we was mates? Fuck off." Zabel's eye flickered menacingly.
"Sorry. I was just hoping for somebody to talk to."
"Do I look like a fuckin' therapist? Am I Sigmund 'the motherfuckin' Freud? Piss off!"
"You look like a man with hard times, I guess. Especially with that Halloween getup on. Besides, you woke me up. Least you could do is have a conversation with me."
Zabel groaned, his claw going to his forehead almost reflexively. "Are you serious? Am I on Candid Camera right now? Is this a joke, is someone gonna pop out and say GOTCHA an' then we'll all have a big laugh t'gether about it? What the FUCK possessed you to think that you, a stinkin' fuckin' bum, are DESERVIN' of my time an' effort, let alone my ear?"
"I'm just really lonely."
The zombie hesitated.
"...how's that my problem?" Zabel demanded, but his heart wasn't in it, "I got places t'be. I'm on a tight sched."
The creak of loneliness sank deep into Zabel's mind. The words came back to him, racing through his soul and memory. He, on his knees. Her, through the door. He, begging. Her, a silhouette, a shadow. Not even that. A wisp. Insubstantial. A memory.
"Ahhhhh, FUCK IT!" Zabel's foot slammed into the dumpster, hard. It rang out loudly through the alleyway as he turned back to the man. "Fine! Fine. I woke yer ass up so I'll listen t'yer tale'a'misery an' woe an' poor-mes an' all that shit. But I'm not sittin' in a goddamn alley with a man who smells like piss. Stand the fuck up, turn around, and don't look until I tell you to, you got it?"
The man stood up, wavering. He held onto the dumpster, but he nodded and turned away. The Lord Raptor shook his head and drew on the power, the sweet, sweet power he'd traded so much for. It roared through long-dead veins, filling them with vitality. It pulsed through his long-dead heart, stirring it to life. It raged along his skin, infusing it with color, and, in several places, stretching it back over bits that no longer existed. Barely-contained, barely-controlled, the power rocked through Zabel Zarock, and he revelled in the glory of it.
A few more words retrieved his shirt and sunglasses. Privately, he'd always thought it was a crime to wear a shirt when he had abs that good. He admired his own form in the reflection of one of the pools of unmentionables, a brief flirtation with narcissism he was all too prone to, then pulled on his shirt and flipped on his sunglasses. Another few quiet words twisted his hair into something halfway respectable and therefore certainly nothing he'd ever worn when he was alive.
"Alright," Zabel muttered, "Let's go get you a proper fuckin' outfit. I can't be seen in public with somebody wearin' their own vomit."
It took them half an hour to find clothes Zabel would call acceptable and a diner Zabel was willing to eat at. In that time, he'd learned the man's name was Langston, that he'd been a construction worker, and that he'd just had a daughter. Zabel muttered some vague congratulations under his breath as his interest was taxed like an American colonist, staring disinterestedly at the menu. Had he really eaten shit like this when he was alive? Could he even remember the taste of a biscuit? Try as he might, all that came to mind was the coagulate of the twentieth century, and THAT was better imagined as a smell than a taste.
As Langston launched into a tirade about his baby girl ("oh, she's beautiful, she's got my eyes-"), Zabel's eyes wandered to the red-haired waitress. He remembered the feel of sex, at least. He remembered the texture of two people becoming one, the sweet moment of release. He remembered the less tender stuff, too, the fierce and animal grunting, moaning, sweating, crashing together in a struggle for dominance-
His eyes swept back to the menu as a scowl slipped its way across his pale face. He was already in a poor mood. He didn't need to think of that.
"...so she left me," Langston said, snapping Zabel back to reality. He almost welcomed the other man's drone. Langston's voice warbled as tears slipped into his eyes. "Can you believe that? 'I'm sorry, Lang. It's been fun.'"
I'm sorry. It's been fun.
"That's bullshit," Zabel hissed, fingers tightening around the menu. The plastic strained under inhuman strength.
"Who does something like that?"
"A lot of people. Gotta pull that bandage off while ya young."
"I just thought, I don't know, I thought the world was better than that."
"Is that all there is to life? Work, toil, give your heart to somebody and watch them cut it out and walk off with it?"
Zabel stared at the menu. His hands shook.
"No," he lied.
Langston smiled at him. "I guess not. I guess it's not all bad, is it? Sometimes someone comes along to give you a hand."
The waitress came over to take their order. Zabel flashed her his smile, introduced himself as a pseudonym, and tucked his number into her back pocket with a meaningful little pat to test the waters. It didn't matter one way or the other. The receptive giggle fell on deaf ears as Zabel went through the motions of quiet seduction to drown out the words echoing in his head.
I'm sorry. It's been fun.
He dropped off Langston with a fat stack of dollars pulled from his old account, thankful that he could still remember his PIN number. Something to get him back on his feet, he lied. So he could bounce back. So he could move on with his life. Good luck in the court case, hope you get to keep your daughter.
Empty platitudes spilled out of him like water as he parted from the man. Zabel knew. Zabel knew what would happen. Langston would lose the case when his wife showed up with a nasty story and some well-placed lies to make him look like shit. That cash would go to alcohol and drugs, and, eventually, a shotgun. He could picture in his mind's eye Langston on his knees, ready to paint the Cobain rainbow all over his ex-wife's new apartment. Nothing had mattered. Nothing he could've said would've mattered.
It never did. The same old patterns, spinning round. A coagulate of time indistinguishable from itself. That was pretty good, Zabel decided. He'd use it for a song.
Because it didn't matter, he never learned the curvy little redhead's name. He stopped by her apartment after she'd gotten off work, and he fucked her until he was bored of her. Somewhere in the middle she asked why he wasn't sweating. Near the end, she told him she thought she was in love with him, or that it was the best she'd ever had, or something like that. He hadn't really been listening.
He made up his mind then.
"It's been fun."
On top of her, he took his face off. She screamed. What else would she do, with that face above her, with that on top of her? His hands went to the sides of her head, ghoulish claws wrapping around her skull, his thumbs pressing against her eyes. He stole her life, and in the last moments he imagined that her hair was green, and that her agonized writhing, her agonized pleas - please! please! - was her pleas, was her writhing.
He rolled over as the waitress turned to ash and popped a cigarette out of nowhere. With a flick of his thumb it lit. He took a deep drag.
"I always did hear that sex reaffirms vitality," he joked to the empty room, but his heart wasn't in it, and his mocking laughter rang hollow in his ears. Eventually, he got up and took her keys and her jewelry. It wasn't like she needed it anymore.
The jewelry bought him a ticket to the show, once he'd put his face back on. The keys got him there in a beat-up old car with a picture of a dog on the dashboard. He hadn't seen a dogbowl in the apartment. He took the photo anyway.
It wasn't a big show by any means. Now, if he'd waited one more year, he'd've seen some real noise. Soul Beats wasn't even out yet. He remembered this show.
Just a face in the crowd, he watched the lights go down. He watched the stage burst into flames. The ominous chanting filled him as the smoke rolled across the floor, and the screaming of the fans was drowned out by the thunder of a guitar. And, because he was the Lord Raptor, he could feel the pulse of the magic.
It was just a whisper. But it was there.
Zabel Zarock slid on stage in fire and thunder, the skeletal guitar roaring in his hands. He made it work for him. He made it sing for him. The Lord Raptor, a face in the crowd, smiled, the first honest smile he'd smiled all day. He reached out a hand as Racket the drummer rose from the stage, slamming the skull-headed sticks as hard as he could.
The magic of the ritual fell away from his thoughts as the Lord Raptor lost himself down memory lane. Racket, and Leon the bassist, and Cam, Leon's girl - God, what happened to her? What happened to him? - chanting backup vocals into the mic. They played in his mind as the played on stage, his own memories at war with reality. And in the background, behind the stage…
Not that he'd been hoping, anyway.
He made his way to the front, where the fire was so hot it threatened to peel off his pale skin. Just long enough to find someone he remembered with a backstage pass, a face in the crowd that he recognized for a brief instant. He picked the pass and slipped away.
Backstage, he dug into his own face with the waitress's keys, scarring along his cheek and chin to hide his identity. It wasn't like it'd stick, and he'd always been bad at the little details. He scratched until his face was a network of red lines. Then he plucked out his own eye and switched the sunglasses to an eyepatch with a wave of his hand. He was riding high on the power tonight. He didn't need to worry about wasting it.
Zabel popped his shinbone out and warped it into a cane with a nasty skull head on the end. A beard grew around his scarred chin, a sharp goatee like the old man from The 13 Ghosts Of Scooby-Doo. Yes, that was the ticket. The trappings were important.
He had to look the part.
Zabel limped into the room the instant he knew the concert was over. He passed through the wall with some arcane mumbling, burrowing right through and leaving no trace behind. The Lord Raptor took a position in the center of the dirty room, ignoring the booze and needles strewn about in favor of locking his eye on the door.
Zabel Zarock came through the door, alone.
The Lord Raptor met him with a smile.
"Zabel Zarock," he said, "I have followed you for quite some time."
"Who the fuck are you?"
"I am the Lord Raptor," the zombie said, affecting a wheezing, rattling voice more suited his true form than this, "And I know the way to attain what you seek. Come. Sit."
With a bolt of lightning from his fingertip, Lord Raptor changed one of the chairs into an old gothic-looking throne. Zabel's eyes flickered as greed overwhelmed suspicion. Of course it did. He knew himself better than anyone. The Lord Raptor, behind the mask, sneered.
Nothing mattered. Not even these tainted happy days, forever beyond his reach.
So why shouldn't he enjoy himself?