The First Time I Met Ivanka

I looked down at the half of him that had spoken.

“What?” I asked.

“Help me,” he said. I ducked back as some green splatter flew near us.

“How?” I asked.

I still held tight to Brigitte’s hand. I never knew when I was going to wake up and I was not leaving her here. Brigitte’s eyes were really wide but she was holding together well; she was a lot stronger than I thought.

“Pull my other half over here.” He pointed with the arm he had, and I looked and saw the other half of him, weakly struggling to crawl over to him. “I’ve been trying for a while but I can’t get it here.”

I tugged at Brigitte, who said to me “We should help him. He helped Doc and I a lot.”

So we scuttled over there, still watching Ivanka stab and poke at the demon and keeping an eye on Samson, too. All three demons were swinging at her, trying to grab her horse, but it was pretty clear it wasn’t an even match – Ivanka was a Valkyrie and they really know how to fight. I remembered the first time I’d ever seen her, there in Hell.

It was the second time I recalled going there. After that first time, climbing out of the crevasse, I thought I was out of Hell forever. I didn’t even know how I’d gotten out. One minute I’d been sitting on the edge of that deep dark hole and the next I’d been standing in a diner.

The second time in Hell was even scarier for me because I had no reason to expect to go there (or the third, or the fourth. Each of those times I didn’t realize I’d go to Hell whenever I fell asleep. By the fifth, I was pretty sure what was going to happen and though I didn’t like it, I at least knew to expect it. That was in part because on my fourth trip here I met Bob. That was the long trip, the time that Bob had explained to me at least a bit about how Hell worked and some other things, like what revenants were.)

I landed, that second time, in a part of Hell that was near some action, too – I fell asleep walking out of New York City with Doc. We were in the outskirts, in the suburbs of New York City, heading south as often as I could. I couldn’t go on walking. I was exhausted and scared and crying and couldn’t figure out what was going on, and finally, Doc said it would be okay to sleep. I think he knew, although I never asked him, knew that I was going to Hell as soon as I closed my eyes because the last thing he said was be careful as I climbed into a grove of bushes in a little park and tried to settle down. I thought then that he was only warning me to be careful where I slept.

I fell asleep almost instantly and woke up on the other side of that broad plain of Hell that I’d seen the first time, or one very like it, with people still being tortured as they crawled across it. The part of Hell that I was in right there was flowing molten lava with little rock islands in it, and I was on a rock island in a river of lava, or more like a maze made up of rivers of lava. Lava flowed around me in all directions and I immediately hunkered down and just sat there. I was too scared even to scream. I just stared at the lava around me and felt the hot rock on me and the hot air going in through my nose and stinging my eyes and I heard the flowing sound… have you ever heard the sound of rock that’s so hot it flows like water? It hisses and rumbles like a million deep-voiced snakes and the sound just grinds at your spine, taunting you with the idea that rock can become liquid… and I just stared around.

Not too far away were the people and the demons torturing them; these weren’t the hundred-foot-tall kind, they were smaller but plenty big and they were dumping lava on the people and poking them and stepping on them and I could hear their demonic laughter.

Then, as I watched, I saw something come flying down over them. I saw this thing with wings, through my tears, come swooping down and begin flying back and forth over the crowd of people, over and over. It would swoop down and then fly around and then back up, sometimes near the demons and sometimes not. As I watched, I realized that the demons were angry at this thing; whatever it was, they didn’t want it there. But it kept flying back and forth, ignoring that the demons were throwing rocks and stuff at it, and I think sometimes they were throwing souls at it, too.

At one point, it flew really near a demon, which took its pitchfork out and tried to stab it. I saw something flash – I didn’t know then, still, what the flying thing was – and heard, even that far away, the demon’s howl over the thrumming of the lava and the wailing of the souls.

I watched it for a long time, wondering what I was looking at and trying to keep from being even more frightened than I was, and then I got really scared because suddenly it was flying right at me. It came directly for me and I tried to scrunch down on the bare rock I was sitting on, the rock all hot against me, as it flew more and more towards me. I covered my hands with my eyes and watched as the flying thing grew into a horse with wings, and then I saw that there was a woman sitting on it; she was beautiful and naked and gorgeous and really really big… and she was coming straight for me. I didn’t know what I could do. I couldn’t fight her, I couldn’t do anything and I didn’t want her or anyone to notice me.

She landed on a rock near me, the horse and Ivanka (although I didn’t know her name) and I laid there on the rock, crying again.

“Please,” I sniffled. “Please don’t hurt me. Help me.”

She looked at me.

She motioned for me to sit up, and I did so, sobbing.

“Help me,” I said.

She looked me over.

“Please,” I said.

Then her horse flapped its wings and she took off and flew straight up into the sky, going higher and higher and higher until she disappeared.

I woke up shortly after that, lying in a set of bushes in the park in the suburbs, more scared and confused than I’d been and also wet from dew. It was Doc that explained to me that she was a Valkyrie, but I thought then that maybe he thought I was making it up that I went to Hell, or I thought, maybe he doesn’t understand. There’s limits to what an octopus can process, I’ve learned.

Now, I kept watching Ivanka while I pulled Samson’s half over to him with one hand. He said that if I let go of Brigitte I could pull faster but I wasn’t letting go of her for nothing.

I pushed the half up to his face, almost, with my legs, and then said “Now what?”

The talking half of him struggled and rolled a little and laid next to the other half and the two of them began mending together. Almost before I knew it, Samson was whole again and stood up and said “Now we run.”

So we ran towards the nearest rock outcropping again, and shortly after we began running, one of the demon’s heads came flying over us and landed in front of us, thudding to the ground so hard it shook. The demon head was still yelling and its wild eyes rolled around and saw us and kept screaming. I looked back over my shoulder and saw the body toppling in the other direction. Ivanka had killed one of them, it seemed, and had the other two well in check.

Enter the Valkyrie?

We reached the rock and pushed into a crevice, me, Brigitte, and two of the cops, the only two that remained. We backed way in and were in a shadow. There was a thundering tromp tromp tromp as the demons made their way to us. Through a small slice of horrid light from outside, I could see a giant foot as they stood there. Then the edge of a pitchfork came in, probing around. Then nothing, for a while, but I could still see the foot. Then, the slice of light was blotted out and one giant finger came in. I gasped and Brigitte made a strangled sound as the finger poked around, the claw on the end of it like the three-headed demon’s slicing claw. It waved around but couldn’t poke right in there enough. We pushed back more, a mass of four people crunching into one, and waited there.

I hoped against hope that I would just wake up, and when I thought of that, I grabbed Brigitte’s hand again; we needed to be touching, I figured, when I woke up in order for her to go with me and I was not going to leave her here.

For the next what-seemed-like an hour or more, maybe hours, periodically we’d hear scraping and crashing and the pitchfork or a hand would poke in and try to get us. We could also dimly hear the boiling and screaming from the cauldron of souls. My only hope was that I would wake up back in that park in Chicago or wherever they’d taken my body to. Someone must have taken my body, right? After all, there were other cops than the ones that had come to Hell with us and they would find my body there and take it somewhere.

But I didn’t wake up and then it got worse because there suddenly started being a grinding scraping sound and the rock shuddered. Then the rock moved, behind us, twisting a little, and some dust came down.

“They’re moving the rock,” said one of the cops.

“Lifting it, probably,” said the other.

Brigitte grabbed onto my shoulder and I wrapped my arms around her.

The rock continued to shudder and groan and move and dust fell and then little chunks fell and then more chunks and we heard cracking and tearing and then suddenly the entire mountain just rose up over us and we looked up to see the three demons standing there, holding the cone of rock about fifty feet above our heads. The three-headed one let out a triple roar and they threw the rock off to the side; when it landed it shook the whole of the ground and we all took off running for the nearest rock which was about 200 yards away, on the other side of the two parts of cop and two parts of Samson which the demons had left sitting there while they’d been trying to get us. We ran past them and Samson’s arm waved weakly; he was saying something but I couldn’t hear what.

The demons made pretty short work of us, though. They simply reached down and scooped us up; me and Brigitte were still holding hands and so one of the demons got us in one hand. We were lucky; it was a demon with relatively smooth hands and he simply smushed us into them and we clung to each other as he lifted us up. One of the cops got grabbed by the thorn-hand and the other cop got sliced in two by three-head.

I couldn’t take it anymore and I simply screamed as loud as I could. I kept my arms wrapped around Brigitte and she kept her arms wrapped around me.

“I’m sorry I’m so sorry I’m sorry” I kept saying. We were being carried to the cauldron and Brigitte leaned her mouth against my ear and said:

“I forgive you, Rachel! I love you!”

“I love you, too!” I said. We were both crying. The demon held us so tightly I could almost not get the air to say the words. Tears rolled down my face and we just hugged each other.

The demon lifted up his hand over the cauldron. We were in his hand, crunched together, and staring down into that boiling swirling lake of souls, spinning around and around and screaming in torment for all eternity, when I remembered Naked Girl.

“Hang on, Brigitte,” I yelled.

She clung to me and I figured that was good enough. I wrapped my arms not around her now but around one of the demon’s fingers. Brigitte shifted so she was a little to the side and I grabbed on with all my life and all my strength as the demon opened his hand to send us tumbling into the cauldron.

I didn’t know what would happen if I fell into the cauldron and then woke up, but I didn’t want to find out what that cauldron felt like and I didn’t think I could hang onto Brigitte in there. Plus, her whole body was here, so wouldn’t it be worse for her? Plus she had the baby… the baby, my baby?... and I couldn’t let that happen. So I hung onto the hand and the demon turned his hand over and we stayed there, hanging onto his finger, over the boiling water. Souls’ screams drifted up to us and I heard the demon mutter/roar something in his backward Hell talk and he shook his hand up and down once, twice, three times. But I hung on and Brigitte hung on and we stayed there.

The demon brought up his pitchfork in his other hand, poking at us. He poked it into my side once, trying to scrape us off his hand, then pulled it away, then brought it back and as he did, I let go with one arm and wrapped my arms around the fork part of it. Brigitte didn’t say anything; she just hung on and we slid down to the base of the pitchfork’s tines, which was smaller than the demon’s finger and which I could get a better grip around. It was easy – all we had to do was avoid the really sharp triangle at the end.

The demon pulled that up and looked at it, holding us right near his face. His sulfur-stink-hot-fire breath wafted over us and I tried not to breath. It felt like my face would melt. Then he shook the fork back and forth and said something again in his backward talk, and then he reversed the pitchfork and held it up, over the cauldron. That’s when I realized my mistake – he could simply poke us into the cauldron and we’d have to let go, or probably would let go when we were immersed in boiling Hell water.

So I let go as he waved it back. He stuck it into the cauldron almost immediately as we let go and I yelled and we fell, dropping down and down and down about 70 feet before we were caught… by the demon’s hand again. Immediately, I scrambled and grabbed onto his thumb.

The demon began lifting us up and held us in front of his head again, staring at us – me clinging to his thumb and Brigitte clinging to me.

“Oh, man, I hope I wake up soon,” I said, and the demon opened his mouth wide and leaned his head back. He brought the hand up to his mouth… was he simply going to eat us? That wasn’t fair! That wasn’t what they did. They were supposed to keep trying to put us in the soup.

He leaned back his head and opened his mouth wide and brought his hand to it. We were about ten feet away from his mouth, with me still clinging to his thumb, when we began falling again.

The hand had fallen off his wrist and was tumbling to the ground. I held onto the thumb as we flipped through the air over and over, and the hand landed on the ground underneath us, with us on top (luckily, or it would have crushed us, I suppose) and we scrambled off and looked up to see what had happened.

There was a beautiful naked lady on a winged horse with a sword swirling around the demon. She darted in and out and in and out and stabbed at the demon, howling at it and the horse whinnying, as the demon swung its pitchfork around and tried to bat at her. She darted in and out and poked at its head, too small to do much damage to the demon but also too quick for it to get easily. She got a score on its eye and the demon howled. She swung around the back of his head and slashed her sword at its neck, and the demon put its remaining hand to the wound there, which sprayed glowing-green-blood, a giant waterfall of it that began spattering around us. We backed away from the demon and the cauldron, still watching the fight as the Valkyrie….

Ivanka! It was her!

… continued to fly around and harass the demon. The other two demons, three head and horn-hand came around, too, and began waving their arms around her and trying to pitchfork-stab her, but they were slow, too, and she was fast.

There were giant puddles of green blood everywhere now, glowing and stinking and looking acidic, and we backed and backed away, until we were standing near half of Samson.

“Help me,” his head said to me.

A. Holy Mother of God!

Holy mother of god,” Brigitte whispered hoarsely and I sat up, naked again, and looked around and I would have started to cry but I was so scared instantly that I couldn’t even think straight.

Every other time that I’d appeared in Hell I’d been relatively safe – relatively being the key word, because, you know, it’s Hell, but this time was different.

There was a giant demon standing right in front of us. His back was to us, which maybe helped him not immediately hear Brigitte’s whisper, which was not repeated because Samson clapped a hand over her mouth.

The demon stood at least 100 feet tall and if that doesn’t seem tall to you, well, then, you’ve never seen something that’s a hundred feet tall with three legs and a spiked tail and four arms and horns and really sharp scales all over it and breathing fire and fangs that are as big as you. It seemed plenty big to me and plenty scary and its tail was waving around just over our heads as we sat in a little group there.

It was a bigger group than I’d expected because also there were the cops who had surrounded us and they were still pointing ray guns at us. There were ten of them, or so, and they were in a circle around us but most had dropped their guns in surprise and were staring, too, so while they formed a circle around my group, they weren’t capturing us.

Some were staring at the demon that loomed above us and which had not yet, it seemed, noticed us. Some were staring at the giant cauldron that the demon was stirring with his pitchfork, a cauldron that was easily forty feet tall and sat on a giant fire and which appeared made of rock or some metal that had started its life as rock, and although we could not see into the cauldron, we could hear screams, human screams, coming from it, as the demon poked his pitchfork in and stirred it and leered and barked and made sounds that really can’t be described other than to say that they were demon sounds and they made me want to retch and peel my skin off at the same time.

Also, there were two other demons, I saw now, all three-legged and four-armed, standing around the cauldron. Two of them had just the one head but one had three heads, three small heads but three nonetheless.

None of us moved. Brigitte grabbed my hand and the naked girl stood motionless in front of me, backing up a little, and Samson stood off to my right. Doc hovered over my shoulder. He wasn’t whirring or clicking at all right now.

The demons continued stirring and the cops slowly backed away, towards us, none of them talking. They backed up until they were right by us. Periodically, the demon’s tail would swish over us and the stench of hell would be carried along with it; plus the tail was giving off an awful lot of heat, making Hell even hotter.

We all looked at each other and then I realized that Brigitte and Samson were looking at me. The naked girl was staring just straight ahead, pressed against me. Because Brigitte and Samson were staring at me, eventually the cops did, too.

I couldn’t tell them not to look at me, not without risking the demons hearing. It was only a matter of time until one of the five heads 100 feet above us turned and saw us and we were pitched into the cauldron, too. I wondered what that would feel like and if when my body woke up in real life, I would be pulled out of it. I wondered who was watching my body while it was in real life, and whether the others’ bodies were there, too. They all had clothes; I did not. The naked girl had started naked and stayed naked. She looked at me, now, too.

I looked around. We were in mountains, giant rocky outcrops of mountains that pushed up through the earth and jutted into the sky; they looked like cones of rock that been pushed up through the ground by something underneath. There were no foothills or rising-gradually-slopes, just these great granite cones surrounding us.

They had nooks and crannies in them and one was only a hundred yards or so away. I pointed at it. The others looked and a cop nodded. We started walking quietly over there, spreading out a little.

Doc floated near me, and his glow was dim. I couldn’t ask him what was going on, but I held I out my hand and he landed on it. I carried him. He felt cool and smooth and pleasant in the toxic malted air of Hell.

We all walked carefully and slowly, trying not to stumble or trip and peering through the smoky mucky haze that surrounded us, trying to ignore the screams that were growing louder and now also trying to ignore the hissing steaming bubbles that were frothing over the edge of the cauldron as the mixture of dead souls boiled over.

We were about 10 yards from the nearest crevice when the first demon saw us. I heard a roar that was half-intelligible. It sounded like someone talking backwards, like I should know the words, maybe but they were coming in a weird order and with an accent that interfered with me understanding them.

We didn’t have to understand them, though, to know that things were going wrong. There was that roaring call, and then two more and then the tail swished lower and scooped behind us. I heard it rumbling along the rock behind us and looked over my shouder and saw the tail, knife-like scales and all, scraping along the ground and curling over, off to my left, ready to sweep us up towards the demon, which was turning itself and howling and watching us as the others moved, too.

It slammed into all of us; I heard it hit some of the cops who were behind me and heard them grunt and then it hit me, too, and it kept sweeping. I was pushed off of my feet and fell and was tumbled along the ground, head over heels and sideways and up and down, the rocks pushing into me and scraping and bruising and ouching, and people were tumbling over me, too. I kept a tight grip on Doc and I lost my grip on Brigitte which made me try to call out but I got a mouthful of hot dirt when I did and that tail kept sweeping until it scooped us forward, along the rock, the scales cutting into us, and stopped and we were dropped at the feet of the demon that we’d appeared under, and it was squatting down and staring at us as the three-headed demon came around, too, so we were between two demons, each a hundred feet tall. Their tales interlocked to form a 10-foot-tall wall around us; it was scramble over that or into the fire or through their legs, and one of the cops tried the through-the-legs route and ran.

The three-headed one’s arm shot down, only two claws on its hand, a finger and a thumb each with a sharp talon-like claw on it. The hand came down and the claws, pincer-like, sliced right through the cop, who did not stop running. He was sliced in half and his legs kept going and he kept screaming, his head intact on one half of his body. We all just stared and I heard Brigitte gasp a little.

The hand that had sliced him in half then picked up half and dropped it into the cauldron and the other hand picked up the other half and then I looked to my right because the demon that was closer to us had just leaned down and picked up Naked Girl, who was struggling. The demon we were by had full hands – really full, they each had something like 13 fingers with no claws on them but the hands themselves were covered with spiky-thorn-like growths, and it closed around her, causing Naked Girl to scream and shake and begin to struggle. On my left the demon’s other hand came shooting down and grabbed one of the cops and lifted them both up. The cop, too, was shouting bloody murder.

We’ve got to get out of here, I thought, but how? The three-head demon had leaned down again and with its two-claw hand it sliced up two more cops and then began scooping up their parts. There was some thundering shuddering and the third demon began moving around.

The first demon had thrown the cop into the cauldron, but Naked Girl had not let go of his hand when he’d opened it up; we could see her, way up there, clinging to the hand and still yelling but not wanting to get dumped into the water. The demon began trying to brush her off and the three-head demon was still scooping up halves of cops.

“Doc,” I whispered, opening up my hands, “what can we do?” But he was almost not glowing at all, and his tentacles wavered weakly. He didn’t say anything.

“Come on,” Samson murmured and grabbed my arm. I grabbed Brigitte’s and we started moving towards the demon’s foot nearest us. He waved the ray gun and shot it towards two cops, who dropped down and out of the way. We did not run, and the three-head demon scooped up the cops he’d shot instead of coming after us, which seemed to me to be wrong of us to do, but I didn’t think of it much then.

We reached the foot and kept going, off to the left, and by then we’d broken into a full run. Brigitte was ahead of me and was holding back, a little, I could tell, but she wasn’t letting go of me again. Her clothes were all shredded from the tail-sweeping and the rocks and I worried that she was hurt.

I looked back and saw Naked Girl still hanging onto the demon’s hand, nearer the wrist now, and hoped that she would escape, but I couldn’t worry much about it. The third demon, the one on the far side of the cauldron, stretched out its leg and slammed a foot down in front of us. That caused us to veer, right, again, and the first demon’s tail was now sweeping back. It was trying to grab Naked Girl off while sweeping its tail around, and was standing between us and Three-Head. We were running and running as fast as we could towards one of the rock-cone-mountains and were about a couple hundred yards from it when the third demon slammed its pitchfork down and speared Samson, who was in front of us by about ten yards. Just speared him straight through with the middle prong, which was honed to a fine point. I saw it go through his head and down into his body, cleaving it right in half.

Brigitte and I and the cops that had followed us stopped, and Brigitte let out a little No and I thought for only a moment before I pulled her and we began running again, straight in the same direction, as the demon lifted up his pitchfork, which meant that we ran right towards where Samson was, and then right in between the severed halves of his body, which I saw, grossly, were still moving, his hands waving and legs trying to move and his head watching us.

“I’ll catch up,” he said, and I almost stopped when he said that and two of the cops did stop, but one of them simply collapsed; I think he’d had it and his mind had given out, because he just sat there on his knees staring straight ahead. I watched him over my shoulder as I pulled Brigitte along. Her eyes were closed and I felt terrible for her that she had to see this.

But she didn’t see the pitchfork come down and slice the cop in half, so I guess I’m grateful for that. I’m sure she was, too.

Part Seven: Now They're All In Hell!

Part 7: Now They're All In Hell.

A. Holy Mother Of God!

B. Enter the Valkyrie?

C. The First Time I Met Ivanka.

D. Helping The Cauldron

E. Just Try To Crawl A Little.

F. Ivanka Is Not Helping.

G. Meanwhile, In New York... A Phone call.

They're over here!

“That’s crazy,” I told him. Octopus or not, he had to be wrong. “I don’t know how to do that.”

Nevertheless, it is within your capabilities.

“How do you know that? How do you know what I can do?” What was it Reverend Tommy had said, about moving freely I wondered, but Samson, Mr. Damned Soul, interrupted.

“I hear voices,” he growled. He still stunk like sulfur and corpse. “We’d better get moving. If this is Doc’s plan, then you can do it, so get to it.” He glared at me. Maybe it wasn’t glaring; maybe that was just the way eyes looked when you’d been in Hell for a long time and then came back as a stinky corpse guy.

Brigitte took my hand. “If Doc says so,” she said, and didn’t have to finish the sentence.

I thought about it. I didn’t know how to go about beginning to do it. I wondered if I should concentrate, or clap my hands, or spin, or just maybe say a magic word or something. I tried to picture Hell, and then I stopped trying because I didn’t want to go there.

“Doc, does it have to be Hell?” I asked.

“Hurry,” said Samson. There were definite noises of footsteps and horses’ hooves and people yelling about who went what way and what way others should take and how they should spread out and I heard the words shoot to kill.

It can be to any world you can travel to, said Doc.

But I didn’t know what worlds I could travel to. I guessed it had to be Hell. What other worlds were there? Just Heaven, I guessed, and I wasn’t sure I could get us all in there.

I squinched my eyes shut real tight and thought, as hard as I could, about Hell and the places I’d been and the people I’d met there… and then felt guilty about Ivanka and tried to not picture her but the best I could do was not picture her naked and then that came into my mind, too, and I was getting distracted and the voices were coming closer and there was more shouts of what to do when they found us and none of it was good and then I heard there they are and I popped open my eyes.

“I can’t do it,” I said to Doc. I looked at Brigitte and said “I’m sorry. I never went there on purpose. It just happened when I fell asleep or was knocked out that time, so I don’t know how to get there…” but I stopped because two things happened.

First, a group of people burst through the trees and said “Stop! Put your hands up!” and second, Samson said:

“It happens when you’re knocked out?” and he grabbed Brigitte and the naked girl and pushed them towards me with one hand, and shot me with the ray gun in the other and before I could even try to protest, as Brigitte and the naked girl smashed into me and I started to fall, I felt the ray gun hitting me, and it was hot and crackly all over my body, like I was wrapped in bubble wrap that was all popping only the bubbles weren’t filled with air but were filled with hot water, and then everything went black

Meanwhile, In New York:

He worked carefully and slowly throughout the night, looking frequently at the specifications. He knew he would not finish the order tonight and because of that he paced himself and worked a little more slowly than he usually would. It would not matter; he was ahead of schedule on this order, anyway, and because he had slowed his pace and had the time, the craftsmanship would be better and he could select the parts with a greater eye towards detail, towards assembling the whole.

Making zombies could be an art.

Or it could be a business.

He tried to make it an art while also having it be a business. He wanted to make money at this, why else would he do it, but he wanted his customers to appreciate the zombies he made, the creations he came up with, the eye for detail and the little touches, like the fact that most of the sewing was done inside the skin, resulting in less-visible stitching and cleaner seams.

There were plenty of people who tried to make zombies and what they made were awful patchwork corpses that were kept alive by implanted small Constant Rescusitators, corpses that required constant attention from people who were basically more plumber than creator or doctor.

There were a select few who could make actual zombies, zombies that did not require mechanical intervention to move and act lifelike in some fashion, zombies that could follow basic commands and perform rote activities, like cleaning or having sex with each other or with their master. Those zombies, though, were problematic in that they generally were dumb machines and would follow the orders of anyone who happened to command them, even other zombies (although it was rare that zombies of that order could talk.)

He was, so far as he knew, the only one who made actual zombies that could walk and talk and interact and which were hardly distinguishable from a human being, zombies that moved among the human populace and did not draw much attention, but zombies that would nonetheless do what zombies were supposed to do, which was to follow orders given them by their master.

He did not love the business, or hate it. He had taken it up because it was a way for someone who otherwise lacked much in the way of marketable skills or imagination to make money, enough money that his front, a diner, did not occupy much of his time anymore.

The diner he had inherited from his mother and father, a business they had run and which they had hoped their son would not only carry on but would expand; they envisioned a chain of diners across the country, headed by their wealthy son who would travel the country touring them in fine suits, renting three or four cars of the train or perhaps traveling in his own dirigible. But he had neither the inclination nor the business acumen to run the diner itself, let alone make it more successful than it had been, and it had fallen onto hard times and existed only as a means of testing his creations, his zombies, and to explain where he got his income, income he was careful to hide and keep quiet as best he could, he had been taught how to do that. He would not have the diner at all but he needed a testing ground and he needed some visible means of support because in this era of instant sharing and access to all information, having money and no support might attract the attention of the government, such as it was and he wanted no attention like that.

He had learned how to make zombies from an Army Lieutenant who knew how the military had done it, who knew how the military used to plan to use zombies as soldiers but had decided that they were not much better than regular men and women as soldiers; they followed orders better and were harder to stop, but were limited in their capacity to think and react without orders and required a great deal of time and energy to make.

Most military zombies, the Lieutenant had told him, were used now for suicide missions, and as pleasure companions for real soldiers, who either did not know or did not care who they were having sex with.

The Lieutenant had taught him how to make zombies, how to craft them so finely that they were almost people. The Lieutenant had been unfamiliar with chips, which were only coming into vogue those years ago, and so he had needed to figure that out for himself.

He’d also needed to figure out for himself why it was important to not leave a half-finished zombie laying around, which was why he worked slowly tonight. One couldn’t finish up too much of the zombie and then leave it sit. Either finish it all, or only get through about one-third, he’d developed as a rule of thumb.

He’d developed that rule at the same time he’d come to the realization that a torso with arms but no head or no legs, pulling itself around on the streets of New York City, was bound to raise questions.

Rachel can get them out?

“She listens to you,” said Brigitte.

“She sure does,” I said.

We backed slowly away, and then I realized that we were backing towards the hospital, where a crowd of people was waiting and there were security guards. I began to move towards the cops, again, but that was no good, either.

“What do we do?” I asked. The naked girl was standing, looking at me, and the cops were looking at each other. I thought maybe they were planning something and thought I should tell them to stop it but how would that work? Tell them to stop doing whatever they were doing?

“I’m not sure,” Brigitte answered, and we stood there, with her pointing the gun at the cops and the cops slowly lowering their hands, and then suddenly the rookie remembered something and pulled his own ray gun out, and pointed it at Brigitte.

“Okay, miss, drop the gun,” he said.

I couldn’t believe it had taken him that long to realize he was armed, too.

“I won’t,” Brigitte said.

There was noise behind us.

“Drop it or I’ll shoot,” the rookie said.

“You won’t,” Brigitte said.

The naked girl was staring at me.

The noise behind us grew louder. It included some shouts and some yells and some noises like scuffling.

“I will,” said the rookie.

“Just shoot her,” said the older cop.

“Get him,” I told the naked girl, who hesitated for a moment until I looked at the rookie and she jumped on him again and tried to tackle him. He was ready for it and he began fending her off, hampered only slightly by his need to not touch her breasts or vagina or rear end because of her nudity, and hampered also by the fact that she was biting.

The older cop wasn’t so shy and grabbed at her and I dared looking behind us now because there was definitely a lot of noise coming up there. I saw, when I looked, the crowd of people moving aside as Doc and Mr. Damned Soul, the guy Brigitte called Samson, were fighting with a couple of security guards. Doc had zapped someone, I thought, because there was a guy lying on the ground twitching, and he was hovering near Mr. Damned Soul-Samson’s ear. That guy, for his part, was shoving people and punching people and looking for a way out.

The older cop pulled the naked girl off the rookie and held his arms around her waist; her legs and arms were still flailing towards the rookie.

“Attack the guy that’s holding you,” I told her. She immediately began kicking backwards and throwing elbows and writhing. The rookie, meanwhile, stood up and held up his gun and there was a hum and I felt some ambient heat and he went back down.

Brigitte had shot him. She looked as surprised as all of us, I’m sure, felt, but she then grabbed the gun he’d dropped and handed it to me just as there was a yell and I looked back, taking the gun, and Mr. Damned Soul had broken through and was running towards us.

“Hold onto that,” Brigitte told me, and I turned back. The naked girl had spun around and was biting the older cop’s ear and he was now trying to shove her away. Brigitte said “Call her off,” and I told the naked girl to come by me. She immediately stopped and wriggled free and came to stand by my left side. Samson came running up and Doc was right there and Doc came and hovered by my ear.

Hello Rachel he said and I was really grateful because I’d missed Doc. My throat got a little chokey feeling.

“Give me that,” said Samson, and took the ray gun, which I wasn’t happy about but I also didn’t object because I wasn’t sure I knew how to use it and he looked like he did know how to do something with it.

“I guess the idea of sneaking away is done for,” I said.

Samson shot me a look but didn’t say anything.

“Where do we go?” I asked anyone in general. The older cop was standing there with his hands held up but now I heard sirens.

Straight ahead said Doc in my ear and I relayed that to everyone and we took off running, pausing only long enough for Samson to zap the older cop, and for me to tell the naked girl to follow me.

Just up around the corner was the big street we’d been heading for. There were no buildings across the street, just a park of some kind and I could smell water. The main street was crowded with bicycles and people walking and horses and carriages and dirigibles and unicyles and all the other things that people use to get around, and I heard the sirens louder and could hear the rumble of engines like the ones the cops down south had used.

With Doc’s directions we ran straight across the street, making more of a spectacle than I thought we should, but a corpse , a naked girl, and an octopus running with two girls one of whom is in a hospital gown, would probably make a big spectacle, anyway, even if they didn’t stop traffic and even if the corpse, Mr. Damned Soul, didn’t keep threatening to shoot anyone who got too near him.

“Stop that,” I told him, and the naked girl stopped and I grabbed at her but she didn’t move and I said “For Pete’s sake, I wasn’t talking to you, I was telling him to stop so get going” and then she did, and I was wishing that she was a little less obedient and we made it into the park and I could smell water more strongly.

There were people in the park, sitting and reading or walking or doing what people do in parks. I don’t know what they do. Some were sleeping and I envied them because I was really tired. We kept on running and the sirens were really loud but not directly behind us yet. Doc steered us through some trees and then down into an underpass, a little kind of footpath that went under another footpath for no discernible reason, and then back up. We slowed down as the sirens grew more faint and there was nobody near us.

Doc was beeping and whirring. We stopped, just on the other side of the underpass, and everyone looked at me.

“What,” I said, but they just stared, and then I realized that they were looking not at me but at Doc, waiting for him to do something. He’d stopped floating, and had settled onto my shoulder. I could hear little whizzes and clicks.

“What’s going on, Doc? Do you know where to go now?”

Hold Doc said. Hold. Searching Hold. Then he brightened and lifted up again. We need to go this way he said and pointed one little plasticky tentacle off to my right.

“You heard him. Let’s go,” I said, but Samson and Brigitte were already turning that way. I guessed they’d gotten used to listening to Doc while I was gone. Which brought up a question. “How long was I gone, Doc?” Doc knew what I meant.

4 days you were unconscious.

“How long has it been since I was captured?”

7 days.

Seven days. I thought about that. That meant that I had been unconscious, held by Reverend Tommy and Brigitte’s father, for 3 days, probably while they traveled here. 3 days in which I had not gone to Hell.

Also, that reminded me that Brigitte’s father and Rex were dead, and it reminded me of how I’d acted when he died and I felt bad. I also wondered when I should tell her. Was being on the run from the law the right time to break that news? I’m unversed in social graces.

“So it was four days from when the Art Museum disappeared?” I asked Doc, trying to work it all through. We were walking, now, through an area of the park that was mostly little trees about a hundred yards apart. I could hear water, too, and wondered if Doc was taking us to the water to try to get a boat or something.

Yes, Doc said, and then ordered us to stop.

“What’s here?” I asked. Brigitte had come to stand next to me. We all looked around. The sounds of the sirens were more distant, still, and I guessed we’d come pretty far even in the minute or two that we were walking, but not that far.

Nothing, said Doc, and came and sat on my shoulder.

“What are we supposed to do?” I asked.

You have to take us, Doc said.

“Take us where?”

Away from here. We need to leave.

“I don’t know how to do that, Doc. We need a dirigible or something.”

No. You have to take us from this world.

“What?” I asked.

You have to move us from this world. We will not escape otherwise. They will close in on us. I have been searching for a way and I cannot find one. So I have led us far enough away to give you time to move us into one of the other worlds that you can go to and then we will use that to escape and come back here.

Shame On America Sunday: Where Will We Ever Get The Money Edition?

This week, I got a little caught up on my magazine reading, and I was both concerned and given the idea for today's Shame On America Sunday when I first read, in Newsweek, that the next president would have a big mess on his hands (true enough) because he would not have the money to pay for ambitious social programs (a lie, and a stupid one, at that.)

Then, I read in Entertainment Weekly, that there are currently six shows filming in one of the boroughs of New York City, and that it costs an average of $3 million dollars per episode to film in New York City. Those shows film there for various reasons, including (in the case of "Life on Mars,") that Brooklyn can look like Boston but has wider streets, and including for realism.

Six shows. Most regular series have 22 episodes per year, so that means that the cost of filming those six television shows, alone, $396 million. It always looks more impressive with the zeroes, so here goes:

$396,000,000 is what the United States can afford to make Life on Mars and Ugly Betty more realistic.

I also like to break it down to the basic units, so here goes that:

We spend $1,084,931.50 per day to make sure that when Brooke Shields goes shopping on Lipstick Jungle, viewers will see real New York stores behind her.

We spend $45,205.47 per hour to make sure that Fringe's outlandish plots are adequately grounded in the gritty streets of New York City.

We spend $753 per minute in order to keep the Gossip Girls gossiping in stylish locations.

We spend $12 per second, every second of every minute of every hour of every day filming just six TV shows in New York City.

It took you two seconds to read that sentence. That's $24 America just spent filming six tv shows.

That's just the very tip of the iceberg. In years past, statistics suggested that it costs $1.3 million per episode, total, to film a sitcom -- more if the stars are paid a lot. The book Entertainment Industry Economics by Harold L. Vogel said that the cheapest programs to produce were daytime soaps, at $125,000 per hour.

So that gives us costs of $125,000 per hour to $3,000,000 per hour, roughly speaking, for each new show on TV. Let's use the $125,000 per hour figure just to give us an estimate. Let's assume that each hour of new TV programming costs $125,000 per hour for daytime soaps and primetime TV.

If I leave out basic cable -- for which people pay, so it's not purely advertiser supported, which is important for reasons I'll get to in a moment -- and leave out reruns and assume 2 hours of daytime soaps per day on the 'big 3' networks, and if I assume no new programming in the 13 weeks of summer, it works out like this:

Daytime soaps: $250,000 per network per day, five days a week, 39 weeks per year = $48,750,000 per year on soap operas alone.

Nighttime TV: Three hours per night, four networks, equals $375,000 per night per network, or $1,500,000 per night for all networks. They spend that seven nights per week at a minimum cost of $10,500,000 per week, for 39 weeks, for a minimum of $409,500,000 per year on prime time TV programming.

In other words, using the most minimal estimates possible, we spend $458,250,000 per year on new TV shows. It's probably more, but using the bare minimum America spends at least that on TV shows per year. (At the $3 million per episode cost, America spends $10,998,000,000 per year on TV shows.)

Now, here's why I used only broadcast TV: Broadcast TV costs you nothing. It is entirely advertiser-supported. The networks spend at least $458 million per year on TV shows and they get zero dollars from you for that; it all comes from Charmin and Sonic and McCain ads and the rest of the commercials you (but not me) complain about.

So where do Charmin and Sonic and McCain get that money? From you. You buy Sonic burgers for the whole family, like I did on my last vacation, because you saw those cool Sonic ads on TV and so you made sure to go there on vacation. You can't help squeezing the Charmin. You go see Beverly Hills Chihuahua because you saw an ad on TV, and you think that Barack Obama is an Arab because you saw an ad on TV.

If Charmin and Sonic and McCain were not getting money from you -- and more money than they spent on advertising -- they would not advertise and TV would not be free.

So you, America, spend at least $458,000,000 on new TV shows, each year. It's probably more; it may be as much as twenty-four times that amount. But you spend at least $458,000,000 on new TV shows.

In light of that, let's re-examine Newsweek's contention that there simply won't be money to pay for ambitious social programs, shall we? Let's ask ourselves, as a country, why it's okay for us to spend $458,000,000 watching Charlie Sheen make boob jokes but it's simply unimaginable that we could spend $458,000,000 to fix the roads, or institute a health care policy that will actually provide coverage for people so that nobody needs to raise money to pay for an organ transplant, or to effectively police our food and drink so that we don't have to have melamine in pet food and children's candy, or to institute actual financial reform to have regulators oversee banks making risky loans and securitizing them to pass the losses onto the taxpayer?

What kind of country can spend at least $458,000,000 watching TV but is going to tell the next president there's no money to do anything to improve the country? Shame on America for being willing to spend money watching fake privileged kids text each other, but not for spending money to make sure that real kids can go visit the doctor.

The Fix: As before, I've advocated a sales tax or consumption tax equal to 50% of the value of any goods that cost more than $500; and as before, I'm advocating increasing the highest marginal tax rate to 50% or more.

What you can do until the Fix is In: Every hour of TV you watch, take $5 and put it in a jar. Once a week, send it to a charity that does something valuable for society or a person who needs it more than you do. Here are three to begin with:

Ryan and Angie Shaw and their twins, McHale and Mateo: Insurance companies won't pay for Mateo and McHale's medical bills, because these twins who were given a 5% chance of survival at birth (and who are surviving quite well, thanks, at nearly 3) have had so many surgeries they've maxed out their coverage. Society decided that it would rather watch Survivor: Whereever they Are Now than let two little boys get medical care; you can fix that by sending tax-deductible donations to the trust fund that helps pay for their care; send them to the Mateo and McHale Shaw Irrevocable SNT, c/o Kohler Credit Union, 850 Woodlake Road, Kohler, WI 53044. (Find out more here; once on that page, type mateoandmchale into the box labeled "Visit a Caring Bridge Website.")

Help a Kid Get His First Book: "Books For Kids" is a New York-tristate-area program that helps set up children's libraries, promotes literacy, and gives away books -- sometimes the first book a kid has ever owned. Local, state, and the federal government don't make sure that kids read great books; you can, though, by donating money through their website.

Keep Some People Warm: Governmental policies have made fuel more expensive than ever. THAW: The Heat And Warmth Fund accepts donations to help low-income families in Michigan pay their heating bills in the winter; in addition, the group lobbies for longer-term relief through legislation.

She sure listens.

“Oh, Rachel,” Brigitte sniffed and she turned to me and then there was a loud crash of broken glass and a scream and the girl I’d pulled out of Hell came hurtling out of a window about 7 stories above us, yelling all the way to the ground, which she hit with a thud right in front of us.

Almost immediately, she stood up and ran at me and grabbed me and shrieked “You brought me here! How did you do that! Why did you leave me! Where is the man!” They were meant, I think , to be questions but they didn’t come out that way; they came out as accusations. Brigitte let go of me and pulled back, frightened. The girl literally had a froth in her mouth and her eyes were so wild that she almost didn’t have pupils.

There were shouts and yells and Brigitte tugged my arm. “Let’s go,” she said. “We’ve got to get out of here.” I looked around. People were staring and two guys in uniforms of some sort, near the hospital entrance, were eyeing us up. One spoke into his little lapel microphone.

I stood up and pulled the girl’s hands off of me. “I can help you,” I said to her, looking her right in the eye “but only if you shut up right now and come with us.”

She stopped instantly and stood straight up. Her arms hung at her sides listlessly and she stared blankly at me.

Brigitte stared at her and reached out a finger and poked her. The girl did not react. I looked at Brigitte, who looked back at me quizzically.

“Let’s go,” I said. We started walking and the girl fell in behind me, walking docilely along. We tried to act as though we had every right to walk away, and for all I know, we did have every right to walk away, but I didn’t feel like we had that right and so I was nervous and also, it was hard to act nonchalant when we were being followed by a naked girl.

We walked a few hundred feet towards the sidewalk and I stopped. “Wait,” I said. The girl stopped and Brigitte looked at me. “This won’t work,” I said. “We can’t just go walking around Chicago in a hospital gown and her naked and all. Whoever’s looking for us or wanting to talk to me will find us in a second.”

Just as I said that I knew the worst was going to happen and I looked up and two police officers came walking around the corner. They might have just been on patrol, for all I know; Doc said police get gas-powered cars because of emergencies, like soldiers do, but these two weren’t driving that I could see.

“Damn,” I said. I looked at the girl. I looked at Brigitte and the cops spread out as much as they could, watching us and eyeing us up. I stared back at them.

“What’s going on here, ladies?” asked the younger of the two. I wouldn’t figure he was the leader so I thought maybe he was a rookie or something and the older guy was letting him take charge. As I worked through that I tried to figure out both how I knew what a rookie was and also whether that was good or bad. If they really knew that we were people they wanted to talk to and also that the naked girl behind me had jumped out of a window and lived, would the older guy let the younger guy talk?

“Nothing,” I said.

“Why is she naked?” asked the rookie.

“Her?” I asked. Stalling.

The cop just looked at me, his mouth not smiling and his eyes not smiling more.

“Yeah, right, her,” I said. “She doesn’t have any clothes.”

The rookie opened his mouth, ready to fire off a second question but I think I surprised him with that because he looked at the older cop then back at me. “Well, I can see that,” he said, trying to work his way through the system. I guess he wasn’t expecting honesty, especially unhelpful and obvious honesty. “Where… where are her clothes?” I saw his eyes flick to the older cop again and I don’t think he meant to ask that question.

“I don’t know,” I said, deciding to stick with honest answers.

“Where are your clothes?” the cop asked. I held up the hospital gown’s edge a little. It didn’t cover very much in the first place and as I held it up it sort of flashed my pubic area.

“These are my clothes,” I said.

“Your other clothes,” the rookie said.

“I don’t know where they are,” I told him.

Brigitte stepped over by me and took my hand. She looked at the cop.

“We’re kind of in a hurry,” she said.

“To go where?” the older cop asked, maybe trying to keep the rookie from messing this up further.

“Away from here,” I said, and flipped my head back at the hospital. More and more people were gathered in front of the doors, I could see. Some were pointing up, some were pointing at us, and most were milling around. Those two uniformed guys, who didn’t look like these two uniformed guys, were still standing there.

“You have anything to do with those people all staring at you?” the older cop asked. So he hadn’t come here just to get us and didn’t know anything about us; he’d just stumbled across some half-naked girls and naked girls walking down the street.

The rookie, I noticed, was staring at my hand where Brigitte held it and looking from that to her and back to the hands. I figured he thought Brigitte was pretty and couldn’t believe that she was a lesbian. I wanted to say Ha! But I held back.

The older cop looked at the rookie and then held his hand up to his ear. I didn’t know what he was doing. He cupped his hand over his ear and leaned his head over a little. He held up his right hand to the rookie, one finger up in the air. I didn’t know what that meant, either.

Then he took his hand down and nodded. “You ladies are coming with us,” he said. He turned his head to the rookie and said “Get the cuffs” and I saw a little red dot-thing in his ear and realized it must be a radio. He’d heard something on the radio.

The rookie began pulling little plastic strips from a slot on his belt and said “Okay, let’s not have any trouble here. Hold your hands out. You first,” he said to the naked girl, who was standing off to the side of me and Brigitte.

She just stood there, blankly.

“Come on,” the rookie said, “Hold out your arms.” The girl did not react. She just stared off into space. The older cop had backed up a step or two; I guessed he was covering our escape route. His hand was on his ray gun. “Let’s have ‘em,” the rookie told the naked girl and she still did not react. He held his hand up cautiously, reached for her hand. She did not react as his hand neared hers. He touched her hand gingerly, not wanting to seem inappropriate, maybe, and then grabbed it more roughly, pulling her arm up. He took one of the plastic strips, holding the other two in his teeth. He wound the strip around her wrist and slotted it through. Those must be cuffs, I thought. Having gotten it around one of her wrists, he said “Now the other one,” gritting it out through the strips in his teeth. But the naked girl, as before, did not react. He held her arm in one hand and reached his left arm out to grab her right hand, but that brought him uncomfortably close to her naked body and the full, firm breasts that he kept looking at without trying to seem like he was looking at them, so he dropped her right hand and it swung down to hang limply. He then picked up her left hand and realized that he had the same problem. He turned to us.

“Is she drugged or something?”

“She’s dead,” I said. I tried to sound helpful.


“She’s dead. She was in Hell and I brought her out. I’m not sure how she’s even got a body. But she does, because you can see it, only she’s dead.”

The rookie looked at the older cop, who’d had enough. He pulled out his ray gun and pointed it at us. “Cuff them. She’s not doing anything.” He looked back at me. “You’re not funny, you know.”

“I’m not trying to be funny. She really is dead.” That fazed the rookie a little, and he hesitated. I thought of something, and I looked at the naked girl and said “Attack him.”

I didn’t specify anyone, but it worked. She leaped at the rookie and barreled into him, moving surprisingly fast and heavily for a slim girl who had been standing perfectly still. I don’t know if she planned it or not but she shoved with him into the older cop, who was knocked back and stumbled. His ray gun fell and I yelled “get the gun,” and the girl abruptly let go of the rookie and scrambled for the gun and the older cop tried to get it, too, but she head butted him and grabbed for the gun and held it in her hands and stopped.

The cops sat up and she was just kneeling there, gun held in her hands, cupped in them, almost. As they moved towards her I realized what had happened and said “Give it to me,” and she shouldered over and rolled down and threw the gun to me and I took it and gave it to Brigitte who would know how to work it. The cops froze as Brigitte pointed the gun at them.

“She listens to you,” said Brigitte.

“She sure does,” I said.