Dead Man Talking

Excerpt from the notebook of Archi Teuthis:

"There was actually a law on the statute books for many years [in Iceland] that enabled people to legally summon a troublesome ghost to court and have it bound over to authorities for incarceration."

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"You see that kid they pulled in for the accidental death over on Velouria? I'm not kiddin - he's in a freakin cape! They've got em by the scruff and he's gone all amnesiac, sayin, 'I don't know whatcher talkin about, sir - I'd never hurt a fly, sir'. When they took his shoes - big, shiny boots with freakin heels - I'm not kiddin - I thought he was gonna break down right there an cry!"

"Ok," Officer Bush mutters, massaging his temples with thick jointed thumbs, "Let's try this again." In a dingy back room of cement and plaster two blue suited cops slump across from a young man. The scene is lit by a dusty, yellow bulb and the interrogations aren't going well.

The tweedy, thin mustached Officer Thistle sighs, "We found blood on the heel of your boot."

Rotmantl rolls his eyes. "You ever try wearing leather riding boots while walking?" He glances quickly over the pair. "Probably not. But I think it's worth the style it brings."

"Right. Because you are the Great Onkoo," Bush leans over the powder blue, fold out card table, "Death's little janitor boy. Just doing your job."

He curls his socked toes under the table and sniffs, "Ankou, thanks. And at least it's better than Officers

Bush and Thistle, 'You have the right to remain silent'." He tilts his head and his eyes narrow. "You have got to be kidding me."

"Look," Bush sits back and Thistle taps his chewed choler yellow pencil on the tabletop, "We have a witness -"

Rotmantl snorts and leans back in his brown metal chair.

"Who says he heard you talking to a girl about the death of Paul Binyan."

Another chortle and The Ankou laces his fingers behind his pale head, "You tell him you can't trust a thing I say."

Thistle presses on, "Quite the little coincidence, though."

"That I have dirty boots and was caught bragging to a girl?" He leans forward again and swings his elbows on the table. "Ooooo."

Bush and Thistle move back as one, their chairs scraping on the gray cement floor. The wide, red gray eyes reflect their shared look.

------

"TOPSY TURVY! Everything is upsy-daisy! TOPSY TURVY! Everybody's acting crazy!"

The odd figure of a girl in a tutu and snowboots, goosestepping to the beat of a song from The Hunchback of Notre Dame moves down ninth street. She is hauling a small, pink wagon with a crooked handle that rattles over the song, forcing Archi to sing even louder.

"COME AND JOIN THE FEAST OF FOOOOOLS!"

She slows closer to the street's dead end, where the road gets rockier; manuvers the wagon around the potholes with care. At the dead end stands a sad, gray house supported [barely] by twisted, flaking white columns. Daisies grow in the dark garden shaded by spreading birches and thin, worn curtains are drawn tight over any windows not already boarded up with plaster in the slats.

"That's the way on topsy turvy day," she whispers, standing at the edge of the cracked walkway. Archi gently sets the wagon's handle in the dust lawn and creaps around the side of the house. Smiles. Pulled into the lean-to garage is a pristine, deep wine hearse. She returns to the front of the house, picks up the pink handle, marches proudly up the walk, and knocks.

The pressboard gray door swings open immediatly. "Oh. Hello, Archi Teuthis." The speaker is deeply tan and hung with blue silks, standing out starkly from her surroundings. She speaks in a low, cool voice. "What brings you so far out of the city center?"

"Er," Archi falters, nervous. "Red said I could stay for a bit?"

"Did he?" Charon folds her muscularly defined arms delicately.

"YOU LOST HIM!" comes a shreak from the floor. A dark, red-eyed teddy bear shoots out from under Charon's dress and pins Archi with a fierce stare. "I LEAVE HIM ALONE WITH YOU FOR ONE SECOND AND YOU LOSE HIM!"

The girl jumps, the wagon hangle clatters on the front step. "I - I DID NOT!" Pauses, "What are you talking about?!"

The Spunky [Spunkies were originally believed to be the ghosts of unbaptized children. They were said to become easily recognizable symbols from their breif lives or turn into moths in the presence of adults. This particular Spunky, however, never really 'moved on' into the light. Try being thirty and stuck in the body of a teddy bear. Just in case you were wondering why he's so cranky all the time] stuck his tiny paws on his hips and glared.

"Rotmantl never came home last night," Charon elaborates, "We assumed he was with you."

"You've kept him out before with your , 'You've got to ride the ferris wheel on a full moon - it just makes sense' crap. It was either that or a late night cleaning up. But there wasn't a massacre in the news this morning so..." The Spunky inflated his tiny chest,

"YOU LOST HIM!"

----

Elbow deep in soy and teryaki water, surrounded by economy-sized steel pots and flat woks, Coffin Galiardi sighs. He scratches at a stubborn, sticky bit on a gold plate with a fingernail. It squeaks.

"Coffin!" screaches Mr. Ming from the front of the restaurant. "Telephone!"

"You tell whoever it is no personal calls during business hours." He passes the phone to Coffin when he reaches the elaboratly engraved front desk. "I've got a business to run, here."

Coffin flops in a chair in the deserted dining room.

"Hello?"

"Galiardi? It's Officer Bush. We're gonna need you to come down and give a statement."

-----

In a cramped, dusty cell, blocked from public view only by a partition to the office section of Pestulega PD, sprawled on the floor with one arm thrown across his eyes, lies the Ankou. His bare feet are colored from the dirty floor and his black silk shirt has lost several buttons and lays open to the naval.

"Drama queen."

Rotmantl rolls his skull and peaks from under his forearm. "Have you come to save me from the blatant torture?"

Archi Teuthis, clutching a severely miffed Spunky to her chest, peers into the cell. A puzzled look on her face.

He sighs, reaches over his head, and slide a book across the floor to the bars. Archi bends to look. "Gone with the wind?"

"Allright, I will, sir." Coffin steps into the hall from interrogation room B. Freezes.

"How did you know I was here?" Rotmantl sighs from the floor. [Coffin flattens himself desperately against the wall, still in plain view from the visitors in the other hall.]

"Squid-for-brians brought us to file a missing persons report."

Archi rolls her eyes. "It'd been a whole day and you hadn't thought of it." Catches Rotmantl's eye. "We had to use a Durer wood cut of you with a scythe. I told the nice officer it looked like you, only with skin.You should really update your photo album. It doesn't even have photos in it."

"But," The Spunky elaborated, "the officer had to have an emergency smoking break in the middle of talking with us." He rolls his eyes. "Didn't your mother ever teach you to wipe your shoes?"

Rotmantl moans dramatically and raises up on his elbows, "You heard about that?"

Archi nods enthusiastically, bonking The Spunky on the head with her chin, "They were talking about it outside when the officer ran out. I heard it."

Coffin moves cautiously along the corridor wall, valiantly trying to stop his own breathing. If I can just get past that wall, he thinks.

"You know, my mother really did have a rule about wiping your feet." Rotmantl smiles thoughtfully behind the bars. "Even to her last day, her boots were clean enough to prepare a meal with." He folds his legs and frowns at his dusty feet. Looks back at Archi and the simmering teddy bear. "Shall I tell you the story?" He continues without waiting for an answer, sighing, "I know she had clean boots the day she died because she was tried with heresy, and death by drawn and quartering. I happened to be riding to the city square when the horse tied to her left leg thundered past."

Coffin sucked in a breath, his eyes bulging.

Rotmantl whistled and laughed. "Clean as could be. Oh, Spunky, don't look at me like that. After a while it ceases to be horrifying and you get to laugh at the situational irony."

Laugh? Coffin inched closer to the partition between the cell and the glittering, glass, revolving door of freedom.

"You know what I mean, Archi dear. Remember that incident with your Uncle Histio?"

The Spunky moans and squirms in Archi's grip.

Rotmanl unfolds and stands. "Come on, you know you want to hear it. Archi, would you do the honors?"

"Ooookaaaay. The way I remember it, Uncle Histio Teuthis was invited to a big spoon-sellers conference in New York City."

"Ugh."

"Don't laugh, he was really excited about the trip. He told everyone he was going to see every little sight of the big city in one weekend if it killed him. He almost did it, too. All he had left was the Empire State Building, but he stopped to wipe his loafers before he went in the lobby."

Almost there, Coffin could practically touch the wall and he still hadn't been spotted by the freaks. A smile moved crookedly across his face.

"Officially, some kid up on the observation deck got scared of the height and dropped his ice cream cone from the top. The waffle cone... er... skewered him."

Aaaaaaaaaargh, he moaned in his mind.

"I think I'm starting to like this story," The Spunky interjected.

"He would've been fine if someone would've just pulled the thing out; but the cone acted like a funnel for the liquified ice cream." Archi shrugged, squishing The Spunky a bit. "Major brainfreeze."

"YES!!" Coffin cried. He passed through the partition gap and leapt over a cluttered desk. A post-it note fluttered to the ground ahead of his foot. The speckled blue tile shot up to his eyes. Then it got dark.

The End

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