Monday, July 27, 2015

Diablo Cactus: Short Fiction

Diablo Cactus
Chris Costello

Sophia Alazono’s father had died at the ripe old age of eighty-four. He’d keeled over whilst eating a burger, and as far as Sophie was concerned, it had taken him ten years too long to do so.

He’d left her four acres of land, a mobile home with a roach problem, and two hundred dollars. The money had long been spent, mostly on beer, and the mobile home had vanished under questionable circumstances. But she still had the land. It was dry, cracked, and it smelled kind of weird. All in all, it wasn’t good for much. Aside from raising the dead now and again, of course.

Jody, Sophie’s boyfriend, cracked open the cooler and tossed her another bottle of hard lemonade. She cracked it open, and they watched Mrs. Knutson dig up her husband under the pale moonlight. She was a tough old bird, but the land was hard and intent upon not giving in. Progress would be slow, but then again, it always was.

“Are you sure you can’t help?” She grumbled.

“Now, Mrs. Knutson.” Jody said evenly. “We went over this before we started.”

“Yeah.” Sophie chimed in. “For five hundred dollars, we’ll bury him for you. But the living have to dig up their own.”

“It’s in the rules.” Jody said.

Mrs. Knutson muttered an expletive and wiped at the sweat that was running down her withered face. Her spade bit into the earth, and the earth bit back. Mrs. Knutson swore again and wrestled with her shovel. Diablo Cactus stood in silent arbitration over the whole affair.

There was nothing special about the old saguaro aside from the fact that if you buried dead people beside it, sometimes they came back. Assuming, of course, that the circumstances were right. They rarely were, but the money was good, so what the hell. It was certainly better than flipping burgers.

Sophie and Jody sat in folding chairs a few feet away, watching the old woman work. Judging by the stream of rather creative curses she was spouting, things were not going well. Sophie glanced down at the shotgun resting in her lap. She didn’t often need it, but Knutson was a scrappy dog, and her anger was rising like a geyser. Sophie kept her finger on the trigger. Just in case.

“What do you think?” Jody asked. “Fifty/fifty?”

Sophie snorted. “Harold Knutson was a mean old bastard. I’d say seventy/thirty.”

Jody thought it over. “I’ll take that action.” He said after a moment. “Like those odds.” He dug into his pockets and pulled out a handful of rusty square coins. They had cartoonish skulls carved into their faces.

Sophie smirked and took the coins. She dropped them into a little pouch tied into one of the belt loops in her jeans. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

Coming back from the dead was hard on a soul. People who did it were never quite the same, and most people came back worse. They were shallow husks of their former selves. They’d debated whether a person’s actual life had any affect on their resurrected one. Did a person’s soul have any say in how they came back, or was it mostly random? Sophie figured that yes, the soul had to count for something.

Jody disagreed, as he usually did. He thought there wasn’t even such a thing as a soul, and even if there was, it probably left the body during the three days it had to stay in the ground before the resurrection.

Both of them agreed it was a bad idea to raise the dead, but five hundred bucks was five hundred bucks.
It took Mrs. Knutson the better part of the night to unleash her dearly departed husband from his shallow grave. When the last bit of dirt was shoveled away, Harold opened his eyes and struggled into a sitting position. A long, slow moan issued from his half-open mouth.

“About time.” Mrs. Knutson muttered.

“Step back, ma’am.” Jody said. He got up and gently pushed the old lady out of Harold’s path. Zombies were like bulls: once they got moving, nothing could stop them. Nothing, that is, except a bullet in the head.

Jody stepped forward, pointing the barrel of her weapon right between Harold’s eyes. It shuffled towards her, arms stretched out in front of it. Sophie shot Jody a look, and he nodded. She turned her gun around and jabbed Harold in the chest with the butt.
The zombie let out a surprised groan as he fell back into his grave.

“What the hell was that for?” Mrs. Knutson demanded. “I dug him up already. Just let us go home now, would you?”

Sophie was about to turn the shotgun on her and be done with it, but Jody spoke up before she could do anything.

“Look, I get that this is trying.” Jody said.
“I’d call it what it is.” Mrs. Knutson replied. “A pain in the ass.”

“But I just want to make sure everything’s in working order before we send him off. It’s a liability issue, you understand.”

Mrs. Knutson grunted. “I read the waiver you made me sign.”

Jody smiled, ever so slightly. “That’s a first.” He turned to face Harold and went on. “Sir, I just need to ask you a few questions.”

The zombie groaned again.

“All right. Let’s begin.” Jody pulled an index card from the front pocket of his flannel shirt. “When is your anniversary?”

“Seventh of October.” Mr. Knutson’s voice was like the land: dry and cracked.

Jody consulted the clipboard in his hands. Then he nodded to Sophie, who lowered her weapon. “Welcome back to the land of the living, sir.” They said in perfect unison. Jody offered Harold a hand, and he pulled himself out of the hole.

Out of the corner of her eye, Sophie caught a flash of something gnarled and gray darting towards her. Before she could do anything, Mrs. Knutson had wrestled the shotgun from her grasp.

“Hey!” Sophie shouted. “What the fuck are you-”

She was cut off by a resounding boom and a puff of smoke. A bloody hole appeared in the zombie’s chest. He didn’t even have time to moan before hitting the dirt with a thump. There was an inhuman howl from somewhere beyond the material realm, and a wisp do steam curled up from Harold’s mouth.

“What the fuck was that about?” Sophie screamed, yanking the gun from Mrs. Knutson’s hand. The fat old bag was smirking.

“That wasn’t my husband.”

“But he got the question right.” Said Sophia.

Jody looked at her with an expression he usually saved for right after Indian food. “No, he didn’t.” Sophie’s boyfriend said.

Mrs. Knutson waddled over to a folding chair. “Thirty-nine years.” She said, “And the old bastard never one remembered it. Not once.” Mrs. Knutson got in her rusty old gas guzzler and drove off. Soon, she was little more than an ornery speck on the horizon.

Once she was gone, Sophie spoke up. “If the corpse didn’t get the question right, why did you let it out?”

“Because, dummy.” Jody answered. “We get an extra hundred bucks if they dig up the right person.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

Jody let out a deep sigh. “I spend all this time drawing up a contract, and nobody reads it. Not even you.”

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