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Fiction: “The Pro Turned Weird” by Stephen Lickman

Oct 31, 14 • Fiction5 CommentsRead More »

proturnedweirdDr. Edward “Eddie” McDaniels knew that if there were two things that went together, it was horrible weather and revenge-obsessed undead. And that night, the weather was positively crappy. Wave after wave of heavy, autumn rain crashed against the sliding glass door. In the center of the living room, Eddie waited. He slurped down another swallow of his coffee and tried to peer out into the stormy night.

“Rain,” he sighed. “Always the rain when dealing with these jerks.” He transferred the coffee cup between hands, then removed his glasses and gave them a quick inspection. His lips sank into a grimace and he said to himself, “Couldn’t have one turn up in Tahiti in December, could we?”

A crash of thunder rattled the house, interrupting his thoughts. Throughout the home the tinkling of vibrating glass mingled with the rumble of the storm as a brilliant burst of lightning illuminated the room with a strobe-light effect. Eddie popped the glasses back onto his face. It had been storming the last night he saw Denny, too.

“Kid,” the old man had told him, “ghosts and exorcisms are one thing, but don’t start taking those undead-hunting jobs. Too many real monsters. You’ll lose your faith in humanity again. I’m telling ya’, stick to research and helping folks.”

But his mentor had been gone for years. Disappeared. And the money now, as it was then, was simply too good. Eddie shook his head. He wasn’t a scientist any more, despite what his business cards said. And it was time to go to work.

Frowning, he downed the rest of his coffee. As he rotated the mug in his hands, the cartoonish face of a woman with rouge-laden cheeks frowned at him from its side. Emblazoned in bold, black text next to her accusatory stare were the words, “I’M HAVING A CASE OF THE MONDAYS!”

“Sonofabitch,” Eddie rolled his eyes. How had he missed that? His target for the evening would no doubt be arriving soon with murder on its mind. He envisioned his own dead body lying gutted on the floor with “I’M HAVING A CASE OF THE MONDAYS!” propped next to it. The crime scene photographers would have a field day. He hustled out of his client’s well-furnished living room and into the adjoining stainless-steel kitchen.

¤

In the woods surrounding the affluent neighborhood, amidst the storm and shadows, a lone figure stalked. It moved with a single-minded purpose through the trees and up the hill. Upon its head, a wide-brimmed, World War I-vintage British helmet sat. A matching gas mask encased its face. It was these two distinctive accessories which gave the fearsome being his name, for he was known as, “The Doughboy.”

He never called himself that, of course. It was the press that had tagged him with that moniker. He was, and would forever be, Friedrich Von Krieger. Proudly, he had served his native Germany in World War II as an officer in the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf, fighting in Operation Barbarossa. He wore his old SS fatigues in memory of those glorious times.

But the British helmet and gasmask were what the press had keyed onto, so “the Doughboy” he became. Schweinhunds.

Von Krieger snorted as he considered the events that had given him his urban legend status. How many decades had it been since he’d brought this snooty suburb to its knees? Those days had been simply wunderbar, killing with little fear of reprisal. And he would have continued to get away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those damn kids.

But, their efforts had been for naught. Never mind that it took close to forty years for him to crawl back from the grave. If resurrection was simple, more people would do it. He would have his vengeance.

Six teenage descendants down. One very special teenager to go.

Von Krieger’s swollen lips twisted into a puss-dripping smile. The house next to which he was poised belonged to Burt Johnson. Thirty-five years ago, Burt Johnson had been a star athlete with a bright future. Charismatic and photogenic, he led the group of teens that had destroyed his life. Now, Burt Johnson was paunchy and middle-aged. And more importantly, he was about to lose his voluptuous young daughter, Jean. With Jean slaughtered, Von Krieger’s revenge would be complete. Then he would get on with the really nasty stuff.

A streak of lightning crisscrossed the sky. Friedrich stretched out his arms as if to embrace the night. He threw back his head and roared. Von Krieger savored the moment with the rain pinging off the wide brim of his helmet. Then, he spotted movement up in the house. A man waited there, just inside the living room. It wasn’t Burt Johnson, of that he was certain. Through the rain, Friedrich could see the man was tall and athletic. Yet, was that a pair of glasses and a coffee cup? As he watched, the figure stepped out of sight. Whoever he was, he’d picked the wrong night to stop by for a cuppa at the Johnson’s. Von Krieger hunched forward and sprinted towards the house.

¤

With the tchotchke of a mug tucked away in the kitchen sink, Eddie walked back into the living room. As he paced around, he caught sight of himself in a full-length antique mirror the Johnson’s had propped in the corner. Caffeine and nervousness coursed through his muscles. He ran his hands through his short brown hair and massaged the back of his head, as if the movement would jar his thoughts into order.

“Think, Eddie,” he told himself. “What have you forgotten this time?”

In the mirror, he scanned all the belts and pockets that lined his black jumpsuit. He’d always heard that age brought experience, yet he hadn’t had a job go silk-sheet smooth in months. He wondered if he was cursed or simply getting old. One was a possibility, in his line of work. The other was an eventual certainty, survival permitting. He mentally ran through the routine again, but could not shake the nagging sensation that he’d neglected something important. He checked his feet. Nope. He’d remembered the combat boots this time. And the laces were tied. Before he could organize his thoughts any further, the sliding door shattered behind him.

Eddie spun and found himself standing meters away from his target for the evening: Friedrich Von Krieger, a.k.a., “the Doughboy.” The monster was decked out in all the accoutrements which made him infamous: the old SS uniform, the black leather glove with the serrated punching blade affixed to it, and of course, the British helmet and gas mask. Yet it wasn’t the Doughboy’s weapon, uniform, or gas mask that Eddie focused on. It was the smell. Von Krieger had been dead a very long time, and oh goodness, did he smell like it. A fetid mélange like rotting meat stewing in sour cabbage assaulted its way into Eddie’s thin nose.

¤

Friedrich sized up the man in front of him. With his thick-rimmed glasses and lean form, he seemed more of an academic type. Friedrich planted a menacing step forward and the heel of his jackboot on the polished wooden floor clicked across the living room. Satisfied with his entrance, he stepped forward again and said, “Nice night for a—”

The sentence never finished. To Von Krieger’s surprise, the lanky man in the black fatigues drew a .45 Auto pistol, assumed a perfect Weaver stance, and proceeded to fire seven slugs directly into his chest.

¤

Eddie lowered the Nighthawk .45 and briefly admired his handwork. His shot grouping was nice and tight, right through the Doughboy’s sternum. Yet the bullets hadn’t stopped Von Krieger. Eddie knew they wouldn’t. The attack was meant to attract his target’s undivided attention. An unfortunate side effect, however, was that the new wounds had upped the stench factor in the room tenfold. Eddie gagged as he slammed a fresh magazine into his pistol and stumbled into the kitchen.

“That was rude!” Von Krieger taunted him from behind. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to play with guns?”

Eddie bolted around the corner. Then he ran through the front foyer of the Johnson’s house, turned, and raced up the stairs. His heavy boots thump-thump-thumped on the plush, white carpet, and he cleared the landing.

He heard the Doughboy call from the bottom of the staircase, “You can run, but you can never hide from Friedrich!”

Wasn’t planning on it, thought Eddie, as he grabbed the paint can next to him. He gave the attached cord a quick tug, and satisfied that it would hold true, chucked it down the stairway. While he had stolen the idea from that movie with Macaulay Culkin in it, he had, in his opinion, improved on the concept quite a bit. The brick nestled inside gave the object some oomph while the railroad spikes protruding from the sides upped the lethality factor.

The spiked weight struck Friedrich square in his face, punching through the gas mask and impaling his left eye. The shock of the blow made him stagger, but only for a second. He lashed out with his gloved hand and slashed the cord attached to the can.

Was ist das?” Eddie heard Von Krieger mutter in German through the crumpled mask. The undead soldier then wrenched the can free. A tiny squelch echoed across the foyer as the spike slid loose.

For a moment, Friedrich held the paint can aloft, like Hamlet addressing poor Yorick’s skull. Then he turned towards Eddie. His left eye was a ragged and ruined hole, yet Eddie felt the Doughboy’s gaze sear with hatred.

“So,” he called up with a jovial tone, “you want to play catch, eh?” The monster reared backwards.

Eddie dove down the upstairs hallway. As he tumbled out of Von Krieger’s sight, he slammed the button attached to his belt, detonating the thumb-sized lump of C4 planted inside the canister—yet another improvement on the original idea. The resulting concussion rocked the entire house.

While the plaster settled, Eddie lay sideways on the floor, catching his breath and nursing a bruise on his shoulder. He imagined the scene in the foyer below. The glass curio cabinet which had been filled with Waterford crystal—pulverized. The deluxe Longaberger baskets, stuffed full with faux flowers—now reduced to cinders.

“Yes, ma’am,” he’d tell Mrs. Johnson when the job was over, “I’m afraid blowing up the front hallway was absolutely necessary.”

He had to admit he enjoyed telling things like that to narcissistic suburbanites like the Johnsons. Yet, however extreme his tactics seemed to outsiders, there was nothing haphazard about them. Von Krieger was a wiedergänger, otherwise known as a revenant—an undead killing machine kept running not just by dark magic, but by an unshakeable sense of self. The only way to bring him down was to break his will and shatter his confidence. And the only way to do that was by continuously doing the unexpected. Few things screamed “surprise” like hidden explosives.

As Eddie rolled over, the smell hit him again. He looked over his shoulder to see Von Krieger standing at the top of the stairs. The decimated stump of his left arm dangled from his shoulder. The explosion had also claimed the helmet and the gas mask as casualties. The Doughboy’s scarred and skeletal visage was now laid bare. His one good eye focused on Eddie.

“Don’t you know who I am?” Von Krieger asked.

Eddie couldn’t help but flash a grin. He’d taken out an eye, an arm, and two objects that were cornerstones to the Doughboy’s identity. His plan was working. He sprung to his feet and threw himself out the open window at the other end of the hall. As he dove out into the night, the storm smacked him in the face like a rain soaked glove. Eddie groped through the darkness for the handle of the zip line. Within a panic-filled microsecond, he found it. He imagined himself gliding to safety below. He tightened his grip, and the metal handle felt slick and freezing against his skin.

Slick and freezing? Oops. Gloves. I forgot my friggin’ gloves. The momentum of Eddie’s legs swinging around yanked his hands free from their tenuous hold. Well, damn, he thought as he cart-wheeled through the air.

¤

Back in the house, Friedrich stood boggled. In all the hundreds of times he’d planned out his revenge, he’d never once imagined things going like this. He glanced down to where his left arm should have been. An inchworm of doubt began to creep its way up from deep within his rotten soul. Von Krieger roared and punched his bladed fist through the wall. The act of violence squelched all feelings of uncertainty. Focus was required now. He could still grasp revenge with one hand. His foe had thrown himself out the window rather than continue fighting. After the bomb failed, he must have realized the futility of it. But the man had been smiling.

Friedrich started to walk towards the window when he heard a voice call out from downstairs.

“Hello?”

It was a female’s voice.

“I heard a loud bang.”

It was a young, female’s voice.

“Is it okay to come out now?”

Von Krieger twisted on his heels and crept back towards the staircase.

“Hello?” the voice cried out again.

Jean! The thought burned in his mind. He followed the sound down the stairs, through the shattered hallway, and then down again into the basement. As he descended, the leather-like flesh of his cheeks tightened into a rictus. The moment of his final vengeance was at hand.

“I know you said to be quiet, but I’m really scared,” Jean’s voice squeaked out from behind a closet door. “Who’s there?”

The temptation to respond overcame him.

Was ist los, meine liebchen?

Friedrich crept to the door.

“Where has your champion gone? I’ll tell you where. He killed himself rather than face your Uncle Friedrich!”

Von Krieger snatched the doorknob and yanked with 30-odd years of buried rage. The knob popped free in his hand.

Scheisse.”

He tossed the doorknob aside and threw himself at the door. As he hacked at the wooden barrier with his gloved hand, he dreamed of the sweet things he would do to Jean’s nubile body once he had her in his grasp. First, he would slice her long, blonde locks of hair. Then, he would saw off her well-manicured toes. Next, he would drill slowly through her tight abdominal muscles until bright crimson blood bubbled over her perfect, white teeth. He giggled with delight as he smashed his way through the last vestiges of the door.

Plastered to the back of the closet wall was a full length photograph of the man who had shot him in the chest, blown off his arm, and then flung himself out the window. The man on the poster winked and smiled as if the two of them were sharing some grand joke. On the closet floor was a small, electronic device. A red LED on the device also winked, as if it too was in on the joke.

“Hello,” said the device in the sweet voice of Jean Johnson, “I heard a loud bang. Is it okay to come out now?”

¤

Everywhere hurt. Eddie sputtered and gasped in long, deep breaths as he laid spreadeagled in the mud. The downpour from the storm seeped through his jumpsuit as he blinked up at the sky.

“Un-dirtyword-believable, I hope that learns me.”

Gingerly, he craned his neck towards the trees and followed the path his trajectory had taken him. He’d flown sideways and smashed through several branches before bouncing off the trunk of the giant elm that now loomed over him. He’d tried to convert his fall into a parkour-style roll, but it all flew apart within two somersaults down the root-infested hillside.

Eddie reached down and patted the large holster strapped to his right thigh. Its contents felt intact. He sighed with relief and focused on standing up. It had been at least five minutes since he’d taken his tumble. And, judging by the loud string of German vulgarities ricocheting inside the house, Von Krieger had discovered that neither Jean nor her family were home. Hell, they weren’t even anywhere in town. Eddie had shipped them the heck-out-of-Dodge earlier in the week.

Owwwwww,” said Eddie as he extracted himself from the muck and stretched. Nothing felt broken, although the sharp stabs of pain from his left side told him he’d probably bruised a rib. He squinted down at his rain-washed crater in an attempt to locate his glasses, but there was zero trace. He thought of his flight through the trees.

“Screw it,” he said, then retrieved the spare pair of spectacles from his left breast pocket. As his vision snapped back into focus, he turned and sprinted into the woods behind the house. The Doughboy stood less than fifteen feet away from him.

The rain must have deadened the smell, thought Eddie as he raced through the trees. The pace he set for himself was brutal. With each stride the pain from his ribs flared, like a pernicious imp stabbing cigar butts out on the inside of his lung. He bit down and soldiered on. His plan depended on not just keeping ahead of Von Krieger, but leaving him far behind.

He took a quick glance back and saw Friedrich stumbling slowly behind. He ducked and dodged past a few more trees, then looked back again. Yep, he’s still walking back there. Eddie pressed on a few more yards, then stole another glance behind him. You’re way behind me now, you undead bastard! C’mon, expend your magical energy! Stop screwing around and catch me!

¤

Friedrich chuckled as the would-be hero dashed far ahead of him. Run, little man, run, he thought.

“You will only die tired!” he shouted.

He focused on the wrath brought on by decades of captivity in the afterlife. He focused on the darkness and the fire within his soul. His mind reached out and warped the landscape to his will.

¤

Eddie reached the point where the zip line should have carried him. Ahead was the copse of trees where his tools were stashed. He glanced back to look for Von Krieger, but saw nothing. As he whisked back around, the Doughboy rose up in front of him. The slight shimmer of magic surrounded the wiedergänger’s body. Eddie dug his heels into the sloppy ground and slid.

¤

The teleport had worked perfectly. Friedrich raised his gloved hand and bellowed with delight, “This is really going to pith you off!” A clap of thunder accompanied by a flash of lightning punctuated his pun. Excellent, he thought. He looked back down at his foe. The man was smiling. It was the same, damned grin he’d flashed him back in the house.

¤

“Gotcha,” Eddie said.

He drew the sawed-off double-barreled elephant gun out from his side holster with a greased quickness. Yet, Von Krieger moved fast. The punching dagger stabbed down at Eddie’s forehead so fast that he didn’t have time to aim. But the beauty of a sawed-off double-barreled elephant gun at knife range was that aiming wasn’t necessarily required. He pulled the triggers. The recoil of the hand-cannon’s twin barrels detonating in Von Krieger’s face pitched Eddie to the ground. As he careened backwards, the Doughboy’s head flew apart like a watermelon being struck by a sledgehammer.

As soon as he hit the ground, Eddie rolled and scurried for the knapsack of goodies hidden nearby. Despite Von Krieger’s sudden loss of a head, the job wasn’t finished. With rucksack in hand, he turned to see the headless, black blood-fountaining corpse lash out at him.

And the world screeched to a halt. Eddie’s heart, already pounding from the hard run, began to palpitate. Nausea burbled up from his stomach. His joints locked with fear. It was the one thing he hadn’t planned on, his fear of blood. His hemophobia was kicking in.

“W—where is that blood coming from?!”

As if in answer, the Doughboy’s blade buzzed the doctor’s cheek. With a yelp, Eddie stumbled backwards. He sidestepped blind swipe after blind swipe. Then, choking back on his sickness, he unsheathed a machete from the knapsack. He swung down at Friedrich’s right leg and severed it at the knee. With half a leg missing and already off-balance from attacking, Von Krieger spun and tottered like a top. Eddie kicked him in the chest and sent the monster sprawling into the mud.

For several moments the Doughboy thrashed along the rain-soaked ground. Eddie tossed the backpack aside and jockeyed for a way in past the revenant’s blind defenses. He weaved from foot to foot as his fingers flexed around the grip of the machete. Then, with one final spasm, Von Krieger flipped onto his back and sank into the mud.

Yarrgh!” Eddie shouted at his now-still foe.

The Doughboy gave no response. Even the geyser of gore had ceased. Eddie feinted with the machete again, yet the wiedergänger did not react. Eddie inhaled, and his fear subsided.

“Right, you got this.” Exhaling, he advanced in.

With all the dignity and defiance that a decapitated revenant was capable of, Friedrich Von Krieger raised the stump of his severed leg and blasted the doctor’s face with a thick gusher of soupy red.

Blinded, Eddie slipped backwards and fell. The blackened discharge had squirted inside his nose. Eddie’s senses clouded over with the smell of weeping rot and copper. He frantically batted at the sticky mess on his face, but it only smeared across his glasses. Through his blood-choked vision, he saw the revenant lurch upwards onto its one good leg. The Doughboy’s blade whistled back and forth as it cut through the air. Eddie pumped the heels of his boots into the ground again and again to get out of the crazed corpse’s way, but blood mixed with the mud and rain, creating a slurry that thwarted his efforts to move. Desperate, Eddie flung himself forwards. The blade of his machete came up and clanged against a wild swing from Von Krieger’s weapon. Yet the force of the blow sent Eddie crashing into the base of a nearby tree.

His bruised rib erupted with fire, blasting the air from his lungs. The wind became an echo of a roar, and Eddie’s vision tunneled. At the far end of the tunnel, through the bits of goop on his glasses, he saw Von Krieger dive towards him, blade first. Whimpering, Eddie wriggled to the side. Friedrich’s blade sunk into the tree, inches from his face. Eddie gripped the machete with renewed vigor and came out swinging.

¤

Eddie sighed, and the machete slid free from his exhaustion-palsied hand. He then bent and retrieved the Holy Lighter Fluid from his knapsack. The local priests who ran the small town churches usually balked when he asked them to bless things like lighter fluid, bleach, and hydrochloric acid, but after a good look in his eyes, they stopped asking questions. He sprayed the blessed accelerant all over the Doughboy’s remains. Then, satisfied at the coverage, he chucked the container aside, pulled out a road flare, and lit it with a single strike. He held the purple-red flame aloft and peered down at his work. The pieces of the Doughboy still shimmied with life. He circled the mass once, scanning for any bits that had managed to wriggle away. Then, without a word, he dropped the flare onto the pile.

Despite the downpour, the fume-laden air popped as fire burst from the remains. While the flames burned, Eddie pulled from the backpack his worn and weather-beaten copy of the secret and forbidden fourth section of Heinrich Kramer’s Malleus Maleficarum, the first book ever to detail the steps for banishing a demon.

¤

After the spirit of Friedrich Von Krieger had been cast back to the land of the dead and the blaze had simmered down, Eddie dragged out the large tubs of Holy Hydrochloric Acid from the bushes. Using a shovel, he dumped what remained of the former killer into the tubs, where they bubbled away into nothingness.

No sequel for you, thought Eddie.

¤

The rains had stopped. Satisfied that the job was finally done, Eddie fumbled through his pockets for his cell phone. As he did so, papers and other assorted objects spilled from them and drifted to the ground. Among them was his business card. It read, in simple typeface:

 

Dr. Edward McDaniels

Clinical Psychologist, Clinical Parapsychologist,
& Professional Exterminator of the Supernatural

 

With labored breathing, he hiked back up the hill to the house.

“Mr. Johnson,” he spoke into his phone. “It’s Doctor McDaniels, sir. The Doughboy is gone. It’s safe for your family to come home.”

He listened to his client’s response.

“No, sir, your car is fine.” Eddie pinched the bridge of his nose. It was all he could do to quench his temper.

His client asked him another question.

“The house? Well, the, uh, front hall will require some remodeling.”

From across the world, safe on the island of Maui, Mr. Burt Johnson, gave Doctor Edward “Eddie” McDaniels a piece of his mind. As Eddie listened to his client rant about property values, he drew the .45 from its holster. A wave of self-disgust washed over him as he gazed down at the weapon. Not for a moment had Burt Johnson paused to ask if Eddie was safe or if anyone else had been hurt. The doctor ejected the gun’s magazine and chucked the pistol into the mud.

Denny had been right.

There were too many monsters in this line of work.

 


When not dreaming up ways to abuse his characters, STEVE LICKMAN works in software quality assurance. He maintains a blog at beerandmonsters.com and enjoys cycling, tabletop games, and home brewing beer. He acquired the last skill out of desperation, having lived for the last 14 years in Westerville, Ohio, otherwise known as “The Dry Capital of the World.”

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