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Locks and Combinations
HE REMEMBERED grabbing his coat and then the doorknob. Yes. And he remembered Esmeralda saying “Fat chance” to his notion of getting her enrolled in the police academy. Damnit that girl! Yes, that tight little piece of work did say that!
And—what the hell? His chest seemed to cave in like an iron vice had suddenly tightened around it. Coughing, he spasmodically hugged himself and fell to his knees. He couldn’t breathe!
Esmeralda was instantly there. Yes, that happened too. “Josh? Josh, honey? What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
The pain was so overwhelming that he couldn’t answer.
“Oh, shit! Shit! You just hang on, baby. I’m callin’ 9-1-1! Hang on, Josh! Shit-shit-shit-shit-shit-shit!”
He could just see her in the dark of the bedroom. She stood and yanked out her cell (how did it fit in that tight-ass pocket?) and started punching it rapidly and staring at him in blank horror. She was upside down in his vision and partially blocked by his body. The carpet on his cheek felt strangely comforting. He fought for air, gasping, his vision graying. He was losing consciousness …
… in his mouth.
How the hell did dirt get in his mouth? Sure, he hadn’t vacuumed in a while, but son of a bitch! This was like French kissing a field, for cripes’ sake!
The heart attack had, very thankfully, passed.
A pretty girl smiled at him in his mind’s eye. Very pretty. He heard himself whisper, “Charity …”
Who the hell is Charity?
A funny taste in his mouth. Not dirt. Deeper than dirt, like it had become part of his flesh. Something else, too: an urge to prove himself. It had replaced the clutching agony of the heart attack, and was completely alien to his settled conceit and brash certainty.
A thirst—for water? It was almost intense enough to push everything else aside.
No. That wasn’t quite it. It piggybacked something else—a monomaniacal taste for …
“Booze …” he whispered.
Wha—? That wasn’t his whisper! It sounded like an Irishman with an attitude and a slightly lower voice!
He spat, spat again, and then swallowed. Against every desire not to, he forced his eyes open.
He was no longer in his bedroom. And the spitting felt like it wasn’t his mouth that had spat, not his esophagus that had swallowed. Again the image of the pretty girl—Charity—flashed into his mind, even as he pulled focus and pushed himself up to his knees.
“Need to get to that bloody castle …” part of him declared while he stepped mentally back in surprised offense that he hadn’t been consulted first before whoever it was went ahead and used his larynx to speak. The Irish accent was strong, almost lyrical. Irish gave an insane chuckle while he held off in shocked silence.
“Now hold up, Pappy O’Limerick,” he protested. But again it came out in a strong Irish accent, not his Georgian one.
The information overload was too much, and he sat back on his butt and closed his eyes. If he held off speaking for a moment, maybe it’d pass. He’d heard that people who struck their heads against the ground sometimes changed accents, that kind of thing. Had that happened to him?
Very cautiously, he blinked open his eyes and looked down at himself, resolving to look nowhere else.
All right … that wasn’t his body he was looking at. He was six-foot-four; the body he was looking down on couldn’t even be five-ten!
And what was with the slightly soft middle and the old duds? It was like he was dressed in bum’s rags!
His legs were … small … er. And his shoes … What the hell were those, anyway? Boots? From the Middle Ages?
He couldn’t help himself. He reached around his middle. It was then he noticed his hands. He lifted them to get a closer look.
Small … er. Stubby—stubbier—fingers. Dirty nails. A scar on the back of his right hand, what looked like a cut from a large blade.
He dropped them, fighting panic. Was he losing his mind?
Irish pushed in front of him and body slammed him to the mental turf and took control.
“I’m me, ye tosser! Me! Now get up and figure out how to deal with whatever has happened! C’mon!” A mental hand was extended.
Who … wha—? Who…? Where am I? Who the righteous hell are you?
“Me name is Danin,” answered Irish. “Danin Blest. On yer feet, mate. C’mon …”
Now wait just a minute, Dobey—
“Danin. Off yer ass!”
That isn’t my name, DOBEY, the body-slammed part of him tried yelling, but found himself confined to mere thinking. It’s Josh Trevor, you got me? Now tell me what the hell is goin’ on before I get really angry. Why can’t I use my mouth? What are you doing? What the hell is this?
“I dunno what this is, mate, but it ain’t your mouth, it’s mine, d’ya hear me? Mine! If you’re some sorta demonic spell from that necromancer, you’ve just tangled with the wrong bloke. I’m tougher n’ a bag of nails and twice as injurious. Do yer worst, you …”
Look. Is this some sort of hallucination? I was dressing for work—
“What’s a ‘ ‘lucination’?”
HA-llucination. HA. HA. HA!
Mr. Irish Blest held up for a moment. “Who’s Esmeralda, and what is that glowy silver thing she’s holdin’ up?”
If you let me into that sand bag you use as a brain, I’ll show you. Deal?
“I ain’t lettin’ you take over, mate. No way …”
Clearly this was an evil spell of some kind, the Danin-him thought, and which the Josh-him heard plainly. A spell meant to drive intruders mad.
“Don’ go innocent with me, mate. You’re some sorta evil spirit meant to make me nutters.”
“Danin! Me name is Danin! DANIN!”
Fine! Fine! Danin! Jesus!
“Who is Jesus? Me last name is Blest! Get it? Blest! Say it—BLEST! BLEST!”
Look. BLEST. I can show you everything, who I am, all of it. You need to let me in all the way. If you do I promise I’ll let you run the show. I’ll even help. You’re … what are you doin’? You’re … wanting to—knock over a … castle?
“That castle. The same one you’re from.”
Irish held up a hand and pointed. It was a very disconcerting feeling to watch “one’s” hand rise without “one’s” permission. Wait, no. It was very disconcerting lifting what should be “one’s” hand only to see another lift!
Josh felt possessed. But … it was he who was the apparent possessor! That wasn’t his hand! How the hell was any of this happening?
He gazed along the strange hand to its end, and then beyond the pointing finger to the valley on another hill, one with a dramatic, dark castle on it.
It looked like something out of a fifties horror flic, the kind one would watch after a night of heavy drinking or nagging insomnia, or after a round of vigorous bedspring-busting sex.
“What the hell is that?”
What are you talkin’ about, BLEST?
“I … was just … I saw a glowin’ box with a castle in it, and a woman in a strange room with … odd fur on the floor … Yeah, naked. Damn strange. Show me more. What animal makes that kind of fur?”
It’s called carpeting. You wanna see it all, Mick? Let me in all the way. It’s quite spicy. Might give that pickled sack you use as a heart an attack.
“Who the bloody hell is Mick? I tell ya, mate: you’re one lousy demon. You couldn’t possess a rotten tomato.”
Mick! It’s what you call an Irishman! You’re a Mick! Got it? Mick!
Irish began hitting his chest with a tight fist. “ME NAME IS BLEST—BLEST—BLEST! YER WORSE N’ A DRINK WITHDRAWAL NIGHTMARE, YE ARE!”
Stopping hitting me! Stop hitting you—yourself! Damn! All right! All RIGHT! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Just STOP!
Danin stopped striking himself. The effort at beating himself up winded him, and he sat heavily on his butt (again), breathing heavily.
Look. I was a cop … back in my world, where I’m from. Do you know what a cop is?
Danin held up. “I can … see some of it. Metal boxes on wheels. Colors. Odors. Horrible. Strange, tall buildin’s. You … ah. I sees, mate. A lawman. Me natural enemy, you are.”
Yeah, maybe I am. But think about it. If I’m your “natural enemy,” then I must be so for a reason, right? And that reason is because I am trained to think like thieves—like you—so I can catch you. Right? Right?
Irish thought for a moment. Presently he grumbled in agreement.
You let me in all the way, and I promise I’ll help you knock that Bram Stoker shithouse over. Deal?
Never mind. Let me in and you’ll know. And—AND—you’ll still have control. I promise. I can help in ways you can’t even imagine. I’m used to bustin’ bad guys with technology! How tough can it be to knock over a fifteenth-century pile o’ bricks? C’mon!
Danin got to his feet and wiped the dirt off his backside. “How do I know yer not a demon spell sent from him?” He pointed stiffly at the castle.
Think about it for a moment, Mi—Danin. Think! What kind of demon would still have you able to stand and walk around? What kind of demon could be so easily defeated? I’m at your damn mercy!
“That you are …” Danin considered.
And what kind of demon has sex with a hot woman wearin’ leather panties while a strange box glows at the foot of the bed? What kind of demon arrests bad guys in strange lands? You’ve seen it! I ain’t no demon; I’m a MAN who had a heart attack or somethin’ and woke up … here! In YOU! I don’t know how, but that’s the damn truth! You know it! I KNOW you do! You can’t see it, but I know sure as hell you can feel it! Admit it!
“Could be a trick …”
Don’t you think the guy in that castle would’ve thought of somethin’ maybe a LITTLE simpler and just a TAD more effective? You’re still alive! And you can still knock him over! I’m at your mercy! GET REAL!
That held Danin up completely. Josh could feel that he was winning, was convincing him. He’d get fleeting glimpses of Danin’s life, and hoped they were fake or nightmares. Images of crushing despair and … cheap booze … homelessness … loneliness … They came with equally dark emotions. All but one. That face. Very pretty.
She’s a pretty girl.
“Yeah? What of it?”
You let me all the way in, I’ll get you back to her safe and sound with all the cash or booty or treasure or whatever you have here that you can shower her with. You’ve got my word. I’m good with women. I know all the tricks. Whaddya say?
Danin steeled himself and took a deep breath. “Okay … okay. Okay! What do I need to do?”
Just … open your brain. Stop thinkin’. You can feel me in your chest. Stop thinkin’ and just let it happen. Got it?
“… Got it.”
What surprised Josh was how sharply and quickly the thief did as asked. His brain may have been pickled by drink, but it was still very swift and decisive. He felt his mind “open” and he pushed his way “up” into it. When he did he got the rest of Danin Blest’s story, and it gave him long pause. He heard him inhale sharply, then say, “Trevor. You’re … Josh … Trevor—” and stopped, because a slight Southern twang clashed with the Irish.
Well, now, that’s better. That’s right. I’m Josh Trevor. You’re Danin Blest, recovering alcoholic and thief. I can see what you … hold up just a second. You’re tellin’ me there’s actual zombies in that damn castle? ACTUAL ones?
Leather panties girl. Stay outta my bedroom!
“Too late. Why do you like her tyin’ ya up?”
You’re hopin’ that Charity chick will try that out on you someday.
“All right! ALL RIGHT! Stop—STOP! We’ve got a job to do. And Charity isn’t a young chicken, all right?”
Right. By the way, zombies ain’t real where I come from. They’re fake.
“ ‘Movies.’ Stories you can … can watch … in that box thing … That’s damn fascinatin’, that is …”
Focus, Blest! I ain’t spendin’ my last moments being ripped apart by the undead! Focus!
Do you have a plan?
You’re telling me you have NO PLAN for invading a castle WITH ZOMBIES? Do you even have a GUN?
“Don’t be daft. Only the military have ‘em …”
Right. Right. What I wouldn’t give for a Taser.
“… ‘Lectricity? What—? That’s damn fascinatin’, that is!”
I bet that’s what that necromancer is using to reanimate the dead.
“Frankenstein. ‘Movie.’ Right?”
“But that’s a crock o’ crap! That’s what you’re thinkin’! It’s all made up! So why would it work here?”
‘Cause, Dobey BLEST, zombies don’t exist in my world but they do here! So maybe there’s somethin’ to it—E-lectricity. Got it?
“Ye call me Dobey one more time, mate, and I’ll …”
What? What are you gonna do? What? Stab yourself? Jump off a cliff? Go throw yourself to those zombies? What? What?
“I’ll push ya down into me smelly bowels, that’s what! I can tell ya like it up here makin’ decisions and gettin’ the full view. Ya wanna try me, mate? Or do ye wanna eat my farts?”
Josh could feel that he was sincere. Worse, he knew he could do it.
Fine! But I ain’t goin’ nowhere until we get a plan, ESPECIALLY an escape plan. And you know I might not be able to keep you from walkin’, MATE, but I can sure as hell make it a confused journey. Those slobbering brain chewers will catch you, MATE.
“Stupid! If they catch me, they catch you! Do you want that? Do you want to die?”
As far as I know I’m already dead. Certainly this isn’t Heaven!
“FINE! Shut yer gob and let’s get a plan together!”
I’m thirsty. You’re thirsty. Get some water first.
Danin reached into his pack, extracted the canteen, opened it and drank deeply.
Damn! That’s good water! I didn’t think water could taste that good.
“Yeah … I can somehow taste the sewage you call water. Is that how it tastes in your world? GAAAAACH! I can taste it somehow. I can remember it somehow … GAAACH! Stop thinkin’ of it!”
You get used to it.
“I’d rather drink me own piss.”
I can see something in the back of your mind. You’re thinking of hiding under that big hedgerow next to the castle. That was my idea, too. Focus!
Danin stuffed the canteen back into his pack and slung the pack over his shoulder.
Openings. Don’t see any. You?
“Not on the wall facing us. But big castles sometimes have servants’ entrances. Some have assault cellars. They’ll be hidden. Big grates next to the walls. Some have both. If we can get the loot, we can escape by the same route. Satisfied?”
Grates. I can see what you’re picturing. Those look awfully heavy.
“I’ve never actually seen ‘em.”
How about something closer to this—?
Josh pictured thinner grates.
Those locks you’re imagining look about right to me. You couldn’t bust through those!
Ah-ha! You’ve got picks in your pack!
“I’m the best there is at locks and safes, mate. Look for yerself. Here …”
Josh got a flood of foreign memories. Indeed, Danin Blest was a master at getting past locks and combinations. Better yet, the memories seemed to suggest that he was quieter than a church mouse and twice as wily.
I’d have a fun time trackin’ you down, he said with a chuckle. He sent Danin a flood of memories of his own: of how he tracked and then chased down the diamond thieves from just a few days ago.
“A worthy bit of cat n’ mouse,” said Danin approvingly.
‘Cat and mouse.’ I’m glad sayings like that aren’t just common to my time and place.
“Those metal boxes you drive. How do those work again? What’s … ‘turbo charged’? How can you get four hundred horses under a small hood?”
Never mind. I’m sure you’ll learn as we go. Shall we get moving?
“Yes, let’s.” He stowed the canteen, checked the backpack, and started down the hill.
Up close, the castle was even larger and more dramatic than it first appeared. It was darker than the surrounding night save for a single yellow light high up the main tower, which, thankfully, was well past most of the structure proper. It seemed unlikely that anyone would see them here.
“Them. I’m calling meself ‘them.’ ”
You ARE ‘them.’ Get used to it.
“You didn’t happen to see grates anywhere, did you?”
I’m using your eyes, so no, I didn’t.
Danin glanced around. Fifty feet ahead and a good sixty feet up a rocky embankment was the castle wall. Between it and them was a huge hedgerow.
—Let’s go,— he thought.
Hey, I like that. Those two lines on each side. Helps keep my thoughts from becomin’ yours. Thanks.
—Don’t mention it. Would ya mind concentratin’?—
Well, get walkin’ then!
He stood from his crouch and jogged toward the center of the hedgerow. The wall behind it was tremendous, at least a hundred feet tall and twice that long. The pack pounded on Danin’s back. He turned off the road when the incline became arduous. When he got to the hedgerow’s approximate center he stopped, heaving.
Let’s … catch our … breath.
—Good … idea.—
You’re out of shape, Blest.
—What does that mean? I’m MY shape! How could I be OUT of it?—
You need exercise, that’s what it means! Your heart is pounding like it’s done a night of coke!
—What the hell is…? Ah. Wheeeee! Well, now, I’m sure glad I didn’t have that stuff in me more despondent days ...—
No shit, Sherlock. You wouldn’t be alive now.
—Who the hell is Sherlock? Listen, mate, I warned ya— —
All right, all right! Here. Look. I think I just saw something out of the corner of your eye. Look. Right there. Turn your damned head all the way! There! Isn’t that a grate just under the front of the hedgerow?
Danin looked. Sure enough, there was a big black square shape in the grass. It was hard to see in the gloom of the night.
Without thought, he stood and half-walked, half-jogged to it.
It was a grate, all right, a slightly slanted section of black bars at the certain end of a tunnel that had to lead directly into the castle.
He crouched and gripped one of the bars. They had been painted black.
Is that an assault grate?
—It’ll take us to the dungeons. Did you see more? It feels like you did.—
I think so—two or three. To the right. In a line. They look too large for one person to lift. Where are the locks?
—On the underside. Here … lemme reach …—
He fed his hand through the grate and reached. He groped about, finally striking a large, loose metal object. He grabbed it.
Tug it! See if it’s even on properly!
Danin tugged the lock. Sure enough, it was secure.
“Time for me to go to work,” he murmured. He sat up, sat back on his haunches.
It’s darker n’ a well digger’s ass out here! I can’t see six feet in front of me!
—I don’ need light, demon. I need to know somethin’ ...—
Yeah? What’s that?
“What is that damn accent? I can barely understand you.”
Well, I’m so sorry! I’m from a place called
how we talk down there. Georgia
—It sounds like someone’s grabbed yer stones. Or maybe it’s how people sound who haven’t had a good sit on the pot in some time.—
Ha, ha. You sound like a used car salesman from
Lower Ripofferdshire. Mind getting on
“Yeah, yeah, all right,” muttered Danin. He reached into his pack and pulled out a soft suede-leather case, which he opened by untying the leather tie around it and unrolling it. Inside were small pockets with various picks. All looked handmade to Josh, who couldn’t help admiring the handiwork, even though it was so dark he could just make out details. Danin grabbed a large pick like a narrow capital Y with a sharp end on one branch and a round club-like end at the other.
“This should do,” he said, lying back on his stomach and reaching into the grate with both arms. He grabbed the lock with his right hand while feeling around the metal with the business ends of the pick. The pick hit a hole and clicked in. He pulled it out. “Wrong end. But I know how to open it now.” He turned the pick around in his hand—Josh felt the practiced expertise in the movement—and fed it back in. The sound echoed hollowly.
It’s damn dark down there. What’s your plan to deal with it?
—Shut UP! I’m workin’!—
—Look for yerself, mate! I ain’t keepin’ secrets from ya. Now SHUT UP!—
Josh “looked” deeper into Danin’s “head” and found the answer immediately. There should be torches down there ready to be lit. All these big castles had them in the event of a night invasion. The castle’s defenders, after all, needed to see too.
I suppose you got a light?
“You’re just not that bright, are ye?” growled Danin as he worked the lock, which was putting up a fight. “Look!”
Danin had brought an odd stick with him, one that took little friction for its end to light. It looked like a huge match, but could be used over and over again.
I’ve never seen one of those. What are they?
—It’s called a piper. I need to concentrate. DO YOU MIND?—
I definitely don’t think they had those during the Renaissance.
—What the hell is a … whatever that was you said—?—
Forget it. I just felt something. I think you’re close. Twist it harder … harder! That way. YEAH!
The lock clicked. Danin gave it a hard tug and it released.
That thing would work great on a chastity belt.
“What the hell is a…? Oh, yeah. We’s got those.”
Josh laughed sadly. Pathetic. Looks like men are just as vile here as where I’m from.
Yeah. Earth. What’s this place called?
“Yeah, Zack,” grumbled Danin as though to an idiot. He stood, lock in hand, which was as large as his fist. He tossed it on the ground and stared at the grate.
Who the hell would name a planet after an old college buddy who got into your girlfriend’s pants?
—Would you mind helpin’? I don’ know if I can lift this grate on me own!—
Well, I’m real sorry, Danny boy, but unless you haven’t noticed, I DON’T HAVE A BODY!
“Son of a bitch,” Danin grumbled.
Hey! You stole that from me!
“That I did. I like it.”
The grate looked about seven feet on a side. He bent and grabbed the front bars and lifted with a sustained groan. It was very heavy, but not impossible.
“Just … a … little … higher …”
Josh was impressed. Damn, boy, you’ve got some serious strength! Heave! Heeeeeave! There! Get under it! UNDER! You’ve got it! Now PUSH!
“Won’t work! It’ll come back down!”
Get on its side!
—I shoulda thought of that first!—
Me too! Sorry, Blest. There you go. Quick! I can feel your muscles fatiguing. Push! PUUUUSH!
Danin, on the grate’s left side, gave a mighty heave and the metal came crashing down against the hillside with a heavy muffled thump. The dead weeds and grass kept the sound from being too loud.
All right! Now where are these torches? Hey … what are you doing? C’mon, son! No time to quit!
—If you can’t … feel how … tired I am,— Danin thought between gasps as he sat heavily next to the hole, —then you are one … silly … little imp.—
I ain’t an ‘imp,’ Danny boy. I ain’t gonna spin your head around and make ya puke pea soup.
“What the … hell? What’s … an exorcist?”
Never mind. I can feel your lungs. You’re back to normal. If I can talk without gaspin’, then you’re ready to rock n’ roll. You pulled your ass muscles, though. Good job. How did you manage to pull your ass?
“It’s my body; I’ll pull whatevers I want, mate. What the hell is ‘rock n’ roll’?”
Never mind. Get your pulled ass up. You’re rested and I want to get this adventure over with. Maybe that necromancer has some means for me to get MY ass home.
Danin stood and removed the piper from his pack. He bent and vigorously rubbed the end of it against the metal of the grate, then stood.
The piper began glowing. Soon it was a strong orange color and gave off a lot of odorless heat.
What is that thing made of?
—Hell if I know. It works. That’s all I ever cared about. Now … I need to find one of the ladders. There’s one ...—
The piper’s glow was significant enough to light the way at least partially into the square hole leading under the castle. Danin adjusted his pack and descended the ladder into total darkness. At the bottom he stopped, glanced around. Sightless things scurried away from underfoot back into darkness.
A low corridor led away, but was wide enough for three large men to move through shoulder to shoulder. To the immediate right and mounted in a bracket was a torch. Another was in a bracket to the left. Slick-bottomed puddles of water wet his boots and made the going cautious, and spider webs clogged the way. The air was distinctly colder and smelled of must and abandonment.
He grabbed the right torch and held the piper to it. The black resin on the torch began smoking and then caught all at once with a soft whoosh! He set the torch back in its holder, pulled out a pocket knife, and cut through the end of the piper. The glowing orange bit fell to the ground. He stomped on it and it scattered, but still kept glowing.
I take it that it will go out faster that way?
“Genius, he is.”
Well how would I know? I’ve never seen anything like that before!
“Let’s go,” muttered Danin. He took the torch and hurried into the passage.
Several hundred feet in was a short flight of stairs. At the landing was a large door. He got to it and pushed down on the handle.
Locked. Of course. Well, get pickin’, son.
“I ain’t yer son, Trevor,” Danin muttered as he mounted the torch and extracted his picks from his pack. “In fact, I get the feelin’ we’re jus’ about the same age. Fancy that.”
The door came open easily. Danin stowed his picks, swung the pack over his shoulder, and ventured cautiously on without the torch, which was no longer needed. A soft, sickly green light seemed to glow in the castle’s interior stonework. He closed the door behind him.
Moaning. From just ahead. Lots of it.
Sounds like an orgy up there.
No one but you can hear me, Danny boy. Chill out!
—Yeah. Right. Why would I want to be cold?—
It’s just an expression. Look. Stairs. Take those. Don’t you think that’s in the general direction of where this necromancer dude might have stashed his dough?
The moaning got louder. It seemed to come from behind one big door in particular. Curiosity got the better of Danin and, against Josh’s complaints that he focus on the job, he opened it.
The smell that hit him (them!) was so strong that it alone was frightful: excrement and urine, and some sort of awful lemon-tinged detergent stench underlying all of it. Danin held his (their!) sleeved arm up to his nose and looked, squinting.
The undead were in large cells in a huge room. They milled about inside them, walking in to each other and moaning. They looked just like the ones in all the movies, Josh thought.
Danin, his gullet contracting with the urge to puke, backed quickly out and closed the door.
Damn alive, that smell could knock a buzzard off a shitwagon!
Danin, bending over, coughed.
Quiet! QUIET! I think I just heard someone at the stairs! Hurry! Hide!
—Good damn idea!—
He scurried to a large armoire in the dark right corner next to the stairs and hid next to it. The sound of footfalls was definitely getting louder.
A tall, thin, berobed man appeared at the landing. He was older, with silver hair attentively combed, arcing, imperious eyebrow, and a well-groomed mustache. He glanced around as though he had heard him, an eyebrow raising slowly and suspiciously.
No doubt about it. This was the necromancer.
No doubt about it. This was the necromancer.