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CON OF THE DEAD
“Honey, I already told you, I’m headed downstairs now. Yes, I checked the rooms. Yes, even under the bed and the drawers. Sweetheart, enough already. I’m in the elevator. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”
The yellow elevator lights pinged down from nine to eight and Paul felt gravity latch on to him. Two Louis Vouitton bags stuffed with vacation clothes and makeup tugged on his right arm while a single, faded brown leather travel case adorned his left.
Paul’s cell phone chirped. He looked down to see a new text message from his wife reminding him to have cash ready to tip the bellhop. Ping. Another floor down as the red LED flashed from six to five. His phone rang.
“Yes, Honey,” he answered. “Your book is on top.” The elevator pinged and Paul stepped out. “You can get it out once we’re in the airport.”
His phone buzzed with three new texts from his wife, each sent while he was talking to her. Damn that Bluetooth headset he bought her for Christmas!
Behind him, a high-pitched whistle was followed by a terrible thump.
“OK, OK, I’ll be right there.” Paul snapped his phone shut.
Another thump, then another. They boomed in cadence as they came closer.
He turned toward the sound, but his vision was blocked by a flash of gray steel. He ducked instinctively as the sharp edge of a Klingon Bat’leth sliced through the air. He spun around, barely dodging another spinning ceremonial blade. The thumping surrounded him as a dozen Klingon-garbed accountants and computer techs marched in lockstep around him.
“Bah, foolish human,” growled one man through thick glasses.
“You’re ruining our parade” screamed a portly man through his salt and pepper beard.
The clanking of steel on leather drowned out his screams as Paul ducked and darted to avoid the spiked knees and armored shoulders of the advancing horde. He braced his feet beneath him and leaped at the first gap that emerged between the part-time Klingons. As he slipped past them, he caught the edge of a Mek’leth on his thigh and screamed out in pain. He was hurt, but he was free. His hand darted to his thigh to check on his injury, but his momentum still carried him forward. He stuck his other hand out to stop himself, but his hand hit the gap between two doors.
The doors gave way, sending him tumbling into another room. Unlike the throbbing steps of the Klingons, this room was quiet, deathly silent. He pulled himself up to a knee, but realized that although the room was silent, the room was full of people. Each pair of eyes from the packed room was locked on him. Three men and two women sat behind a table at the front of the room. In front of them, books about Star Trek and Stargate SG1 sat upright like billboards. The names on the books matched the paper name cards in front of each person. Not a single word was said from the audience or the celebrities at the dais.
Paul smiled a sheepish smile and stood. “I’m so sorry, folks.” His hand brushed his thigh. He was bruised but not bleeding. “I…um….I fell. I’ll be going now.”
He stepped back toward the door, pausing to listen for the boots outside the room, but they were gone. Behind him, one of the men on the panel snatched a book from in front of him and frantically flipped through the pages.
His finger trailed down one glossy page before stopping midway. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he called out to the audience before gesturing toward Paul. “Let me present our final panelist, Dr. Thomas Braynes, author of the lost 23rd episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation, season two.”
A roar swelled in the crowd. “Oooooooo!” Everyone’s eyes were locked on him. Then a single word spread throughout the room.
“Braynes.” It started as a whisper but grew into a moaning chant that filled the mouths of everyone in the room.
“Braynes.” They chanted from their seats. Hands darted up from the audience members, each vying for his attention.
“Braynes,” they repeated. When he did not respond, the ones on the row closest to him stood up and reached out toward him.
“Oh my God,” Paul screamed.
More hands reached to him, as the audience began leaving their seats and filing down toward him. Some held pens and autograph books, others filled with dog-eared amateur screenplays. Paul threw open the door and grabbed his cell phone, frantically hitting redial. Before the phone connected, a red plastic sword blade slashed across his right wrist, numbing it and sending his phone skittering across the carpet floor.
To his right, two men dressed in brown tunics and tights slapped blinking plastic swords together in a swirling battle. One wore red and black paint that was smeared from the sweat pouring down his forehead.
“What the heck?” Paul asked.
Without breaking from the fight, the man spoke to him. “I’m sorry, dear Padawan, but the Force is strong with this one.”
The other man lunged forward, slashing with his blinking red sword. The blade whistled through the air, and the first man dropped to a knee, clutching at his gut. He handed his sword to Paul.
“I die, Padawan. Now you must defeat the Sith Lord.”
“Maybe later,” Paul answered.
The man let the sword fall slowly, waiting for Paul to grasp it. Paul spied his cellphone down the hall near a table covered with movie posters, swag items and a charity book donation box. As the plastic sword fell to the ground, Paul ran toward his phone.
After two steps, four hands pulled him backward, clutching at his shoulders. Two notepads were thrust in front of him while two men in matching Spock t-shirts stabbed their pens at him.
“Braynes,” they shouted in union.
He violently shrugged his shoulder and slipped off his jacket, leaving it behind in their clutching fingers. In two steps, his phone was in his hand again. He flipped it open, but the chants of “Braynes” had grown so loud, he could not hear the phone. A pair of double doors led into the dealer’s gallery and his only available avenue of escape. He stepped hard to his left as a feint, before twisting to his right and ducking through the double doors.
As the doors clicked shut behind him, he looked down at his phone. “No service” blinked back at him. He slapped the phone shut and contemplated throwing it against the nearest wall, but that wall was draped with a wall of t-shirts depicting Ewoks urinating on various automobile brands and some odd jokes about Spock’s phaser. The wall behind him was lined with worn paperback books, sitting behind a table stacked high with all sorts of leather and stone trinkets, goggle and cogs for machines that no longer existed. The air was thick with the scent of moth-balls on Wookie costumes and stale Frito pie. He leaned against the table to catch his breath, feeling the glossy covers of brand new paperback books beneath his fingers.
A soft voice came from behind him, “So, are you a fan of post-apocalyptic vampire comedies?”
Paul looked down. His right hand had curled around a paperback book depicting a masculine woman in cutoff jeans and a John Deere hat punching a blood-soaked zombie in the face. “Um?” he blushed as he withdrew his hand like it had touched a hot stove. “I guess so?”
“That’s just the first book,” said the woman. “I’ve got five others in the series.”
“Wow,” he stammered. “That’s very impressive, I guess.”
Her claw-like hands reached toward him, filled with five more books. “Would you like me to autograph them for you?”
He held his index finger in front of him. “Yes, let me go find a pen.”
Paul was already moving when she pulled a pen from her shirt pocket. He stepped quickly, navigating a sea of book sellers and buyers toward the doors at the opposite end of the room. Behind him, muffled cries of “Braynes” grew louder as the steel doors opened and a throng of fans flooded into the room.
One man was tracking Paul’s flight through the room. “There he is.”
“Who?” asked the woman, still holding a pen.
“TNG-Episode 23,” said the crowd in unison, as they turned toward Paul.
Paul raced toward the door. He slammed against it, but the door didn’t open. He jerked at the handle and the door flew open, knocking him backwards and onto one knee. The parade of chanting Klingons stomped through the open door, bearing down on him. The floor shuddered beneath him at the steel and leather onslaught. Paul crawled forward, dodging spiked boots and clanging weapons until the parade had passed. He reached the door just before it latched shut. His heavy door pinched his fingers, but he had enough leverage to pull it open.
Thee footsteps behind him stopped, leaving a silence that was broken by a guttural command in Klingon. A dozen boots scraped across the floor in a military about-face. Behind them, a pasty white face appeared over the shoulder of a shorter Kingon warrior.
“That’s him,” said the pasty-faced man, pointing at Paul. “That’s Thomas Brayne.”
The orderly procession dissolved into chaos as Batleths clanged to the floor. Instead of weapons, the Klingons stepped forward with pens and notebooks.
Paul grabbed a pad from the closest man. He flipped past scrawled signatures from Brent Spiner and Hugh Jackman to find a blank page. He scribbled wildly onto the paper and held it above him, drawing everyone’s attention to the fluttering paper. Paul stepped back slowly, cautiously moving backward as the crowd stepped forward. The crowd pressed forward and Paul stepped out of the room. The hallway behind him was lined with planters and couches, but the only doorway was at the far end. He turned and ran for it. As soon as his back was turned, the crowd thundered after him. He stopped and turned back, holding the paper up in front of him. The crowd skidded to a halt, recoiling from the paper, all mesmerized by the precious in his hands. A few reached out for it, but most simply stared at it. Paul walked backwards, under the protection of the paper. The ping of the elevator rang out behind him. When the door opened, he reached inside and pressed as many buttons as he could reach. When the elevator pinged again, he tossed the paper inside and stepped away. A dozen fans dove into the elevator, scrambling for the page. Paul watched their faces as they read Paul’s hastily scribbled, and incorrect, signature. Their glee turned to a scowl as the doors closed on them. “Braynes?”
Paul ran down the hall toward a spiral staircase. He bounded it three steps at a time. The last leap led to the slick marble floor of the hotel lobby and his sneakers squeaked as he skidded to a stop.
A woman in black slacks and a ruffled maroon sweater stepped out of the bar. “Paul? What took you so long?”
“Honey, we’ve got to go. Have you already checked out?”
“Just go. Now!”
Paul grabbed her by the arm and turned toward the door. After one step, he slammed into a luggage trolley. His momentum upset the delicate balance of suitcases and garment bags, sending a wave of luggage crashing down around him. One by one, he was bludgeoned by Samsonite cases and leather attaches covered in travel stickers from Vulcan and Alpha Centauri.
Behind him, the elevator pinged open and a dozen men stepped out screaming for “Braynes”. Above him, footsteps clamored down the spiral staircase. He looked up at a plastic sack hanging precariously from the top rack of the luggage cart. He tried to move, but his arms were caught in the tangled straps of two Imperial Stormtrooper garment bags. A box was visible in the bottom of the sack, a sharp edge poking through a torn seam. The tear grew larger, stretching around a DVD boxed set collection. The thin plastic gave way, sending an orange box tumbling toward Paul. On the back of the box, Paul saw the listing for Star Trek season 2. It stopped at episode 22.
Paul grabbed his wife’s arms and raced toward the rotating doors that led to their tram to the airport. As he passed the check-in booth, he heard a man talking to the clerk.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry I’m checking in so late. My name is Thomas Braynes.”
This story previously appeared in Aphelion Magazine 2022.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Stephen Patrick's stories have appeared in Dark Recesses Press, The Writer's Post Journal, Aphelion, and Bewildering Stories among others. His most recent work appears in the anthologies Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers, vol 1 and vol 2. He currently lives near Dallas, TX.