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Mundementia One Interludes: Black Friday
"Greeetings." Wheezes the steer in a voice of cheese and ashes.
"Er." I say, backing away, my lungs still betraying me, the stinking miasma of the ghastly creature preventing normal breath and voice. No real loss; anything else I might have said is preempted by the steer's high, piercing cry, presumably to a fellow out in the main dining room.
"ANGUS!" Wails the cow in tones that can only be compared in my ears to the musical stylings of certain punk-scene groups which I have had the misfortune of being exposed to over the course of my short, eventful life.
A voice comes in response, so full of ruin and bile that one can imagine it originating somewhere at the level of the spleen. "What have you unearthed?" the voice roars out, sounding in the process rather like the "Brand X" engine in a new-and-improved synthetic motor oil commercial spot.
"Another _nebish beheyme_." Snarls the Limousin, gesturing disdainfully at me with a flip of his scrubby-haired skull. With this motion, I am treated to a close glimpse of the animal's throat, or rather, a large portion of his lack thereof. Directly crossing the beast's windpipe is a broad, horizontal slash, its edges stained with ancient brown-black gore.
"Bring him out with the others!" Comes the voice of Angus from the dining room. There is a sound, rather a lot like a huge black beast of an undead steer turning to face a mass of confused and frightened fast-food restaurant-goers. "You imbeciles will serve us well." He chuckles, in that same thirty-two-degrees-below carburetor voice. "Now that you foolish Fast Food Patrons have facilitated our escape from the Ninth Circle of Hell, NO MORTAL BARRIERS WILL EVER AGAIN STAND IN OUR PATH! NONE!"
Imagine the peaceful lowing of cattle on a sun-dappled evening somewhere upon the grounds of a small family farm in Central Wisconsin. The blissful, quiet sounds of restful animals nodding contentedly in their little stanchions, all set up for a nice, long evening of knee-locked sleep.
Take the exact, polar opposite.
Feed it into a commercially available Diabolical Laughter Generation Device. Crank the volume to its maximum level, the one that you use specifically to piss your neighbors off.
And as you read...
Begin playing it in the background...
"Undead Cows." I say, nodding faintly to no one at all. "Risen from Hell, bent on world domination."
"Indeed!" Hisses the yarmulke-clad steer. "But." The steer slits his sanguine eyes at me. "We are _not_ 'cows'."
"You sure as hell look like a cow to me."
The Limousin emits a wild shriek which strips a fair measure of pale blue-grey paint from the somber walls surrounding us. "NO!" He vocalizes at last, fluids burbling around his throat. "No." He continues, making an effort to compose himself. "When addressing us, _moyshe pupik_, you will call us 'Steers' and 'Steers' only." He glares at me, wheezing slightly in an unusual and vaguely central European accent. "'Cow' refers only to a member of our fairer sex."
I glance at the hideous beast.
"Are they much of an improvement?" I ask, mildly.
"SAUL!" Roars Angus from the dining room.
"Enough talking!" Cries out the Limousin, gnashing his teeth. "Angus and Bob awaiteth, and already they will be most displeased with you!"
"*SAUL!!*" Comes the voice of Angus again.
"NOW!" Demands Saul, ramming me painfully in the direction of the seating area with his rock-hard skull. Reluctant and pissy, I trudge out to the dining room, greeting a sight that I had more or less foreseen. All of the lunchtime patrons of Burger Hell have been herded up into a corner of the sitting area by two very angry and very dead-looking cows. The first, a huge, thewey, spectral-black thing with the ghostly remnant of a captive bolt protruding from his skull, seems to be in charge of this little circus. The other is of an unhealthy-looking white-patchy hue; his mouth drips with froth, and his eyes loll unevenly in his skull as he makes idle threatening gestures at the mass of patrons. Feeb is among them, looking diffident and calculating in that way that she does when she's trying desperately to convince everyone else that she's got already got a brilliant plan of action worked out when in fact she doesn't. Luke and Buddy are nowhere to be seen.
Saul shoves me rudely over to join the group, passing the patchy white one in the process. As we pass, he leers at me, ganglingly, and spits up a mouthful of words in a faintly Liverpoolian accent.
"Roger, coughing dickie!" He sneers out. "Pop anna bit of soss! Looney bird!"
There comes a cackle.
"Scumble pram!" He finishes.
"What's with you?" I snarl, still being jostled into place by the massive bovine head of Saul behind me.
"Don't bother, Charles. Our third captor appears to be from the British herds, and you know what they say about _those_ cows."
I stare at her for a second.
"They're mad?" I hazard.
"Do'ona wanna papers!" Jeers the white one, continuing in his trend of speaking in 'eers.' "Bloody parity issue! Vinegar PRAWN!"
"NOT 'COWS'!" Screams Saul. "_A CHALEYRE_, INSOLENT WOMAN! DIE BY MY HOOVES!"
"_DO_ shut _UP_, both of you." Rattles the large black one, the one whom Saul had named 'Angus', lowering the captive bolt at them like some sort of vulgar alicorn. "You're causing my headache to return."
"Hash and fried slice!" Chortles the one who, by default, must be 'Bob'. "Pembroke Welsh Corgi!"
"A thousand pardons, _balebos_." Wheezes Saul, lowering his head.
"Your sniveling subservience pleases me." Sniffs Angus, haughtily. "You may continue to live. Saul, resume your incantations on the door-runes. Bob, you will remain here and help me mind this mass of primate frau-frau."
"Worcestershire." Registers Bob, affirmatively.
Saul, too, gestures acquiescence. "I swear it will be done, Angus." He trots sneakily over to the great portals, and a low drone, accompanied by a sickly Illearthean green glow, begins to rise from the storefront.
"Feeb," I whisper, out of one corner of my mouth, "what the hell happened here? What's going on?"
"You want the short, descriptive and helpful version, or the long and complicated one peppered with amusing anecdotes and clever one-liners?" She asks me, her face bland.
"First one." I say, scrutinizing her.
"Well," she says, warming, "we got'cher basic Sinful Cattle here, and by the looks of it, these's amongst the worst of a bad lot." She clears her throat, theatrically, and raises her chin, as if addressing the ceiling. "It's also important to note," she says, loudly, "that the kosher-killed Limousin wearing the Yarmulke is an intrinsically evil beast by his own rights, and despite the fact that he behaves in a number of stereotypical ways that might easily be construed as 'Jewish' and thus offensive to that group as a whole by association with his vile deeds, his presence in no way indicates any attempt at defamation of this ethnic group."
"Huh?" I say, blinking.
"Just trying to avoid lawsuits." She says, putting away what looks suspiciously like a pre-typed script. "Last thing we want here is to get smacked with a civil case. 'Specially right around the Holiday season."
"Huh?" I repeat.
"SHUT UP!" Angus suggests.
"Chutney drippings." Sniffs Bob, disdainfully.
"I'll explain later." Says Feeb. "Point being, every hamburger which comes off the line here at Burger Hell is inseared with the Anti-Coptic Sigil of 'Wu' to prevent Riders."
"'Riders'?" I ask.
"Evil spirits who attempt to escape the warding glyphs at the exit portal by 'possessing' the beef patties. To discourage this behavior, the chain long ago adopted the Sigil of 'Wu' as franchise standard."
"Just what _is_ this 'Sigil of Wu'?"
"Well, I'll show you." Says Feeb, picking up a paper tray liner. "Anybody got a pen?"
"SHUT UP!" Snorts Angus. Bob giggles.
"Righthereforya!" Says the unflappable Burger Youth, from nearby in the crowd, extending one towards her, blunt end forward in the classically polite fashion.
"Thanks." Says Feeb. "Now, look here, Charles. The sigil of 'Wu' is a relatively simple collection of straightish lines. Even a Level 4 Male Peasant such as yourself could probably duplicate it." She begins drawing. "It consists of a series of five horizontal lines burned across the surface of the item you wish to englyph, in this case, the beef patty."
"Hey!" I remark. "So _that's_ why those lines are there!"
"Of course!" She says, patting the paper.
"SHUT UP!" Bellows Angus.
"So what went wrong?"
"Someone consecrated one of the hamburgers." Volunteers one of the other patrons, in a faintly grouchy manner.
"It was Buddy, truth to tell." Says Feeb, looking at me sheepishly. "The poor dear was so torn up about missing CORVID's saying of the Grace yesterday because of that incident with his nylon stockings that he decided to say a quick one by himself over the meal today. His blessing rendered the Anti-Coptic sigil unstable, and these three, who had quite coincidentally been attempting a 'break' using our meal, managed to pierce the breach. They constructed new corporeal forms for themselves out of the back stock they found in the freezers, and, well." She shrugs. "Now they're intent on conquering the world."
"So, nothing unusual, then." I say, thinking hard. "Where is he now? And Luke, for that matter?"
Feeb bites her lip. "Well, you recall how Luke feels about cows, don't you?"
"Oh yeah." I say, an uneasy feeling of recognition creeping over me as I recall that endless night the two of us spent stranded on a rocky knoll in the middle of a Wisconsin farm. "Gotcha."
"And _these_ are Undead Hell-Cattle. He kind of went berserk. We had to have Buddy tranquilize him and put him in the break room so as not to endanger himself and all the rest of us."
"So where's Buddy?"
Feeb bites her lip again. "Well, you recall how Buddy feels about mind-altering drugs, don't you?"
"He didn't." I say, shaking my head and knowing full well that he did.
"Well, we had some of the tranquilizer left over, and, you know, I guess he kinda thought..." She shrugs. "Anyhoo, as soon as Saul there finishes untangling the last-ditch protective runes on the doors to the outside world, these three are gonna raise Cain so high that his ears'll pop. So it's up to just you and me and this crowd of assorted extras who don't really count to save the city from conquest."
"We're real sorry 'bout this, Miss." Says the Burger Youth.
"It's not your fault, boy." Says Feeb, archly. "But I _am_ going to make mention of it on my comment card."
"SILENCE!" Commands Angus, marching over to us at last and giving us a menacing point with the captive bolt. "WHEN I SAY 'SILENCE', I MEAN 'PLEASE CEASE WITH YOUR TONGUE-WAGGLING BABBLE,' NOT SOME OTHER DEFINITION OF 'SILENCE' WHICH I AM NOT AWARE OF!'"
I nod, quietly, and then, from nowhere, begin to speak.
"Gentle... steers." I say, stepping forward, my palms up.
"*What are you _DOING_?*" Hisses Feeb.
"I'm trying to reason with them." I say, calmly.
"*YOU IDIOT!*" Says Feeb, hissing still. "*YOU CAN'T--*"
"Listen." I say, summarily ignoring her as I continue walking slowly forward. "Now, I know, you chaps are probably pretty upset about a lot of things. After all, I mean, we humans have probably done you a number of disservices in the past. I mean, hell!" I inject an easy laugh into my voice. "Somebody got up every morning and milked _me_, I'd be kind of upset too!" I grin winningly at Angus.
Angus says nothing but returns an unamused look. Feeb covers her eyes with one hand and begins massaging her temples.
"The _shvuntz freser_ appears to be mistaking us for 'cows' again, _balebos_." Remarks Saul, mid-chant.
"Tory Party." Sneers Bob.
"Indeed." Says Angus. "We are not seeking revenge, scrawny one."
"Well, not for yourselves, maybe. But I'd understand if it was a species thing. You know, we raise you, we kill you, we eat you, sorta thing. But, Angus... may I call you Angus?"
"No." Says Angus, blinking at me.
"Oo... kay. But... you, you, have to admit that, really, there's nothing inherently unnatural about us eating your kind. I mean, really!" I say, waxing rhapsodic. "We cannot hope to work together to make the world a better place until we realize that we humans _are_ omnivorous beings, with a very specific place in the food web of the world! Abandoning our processes of livestock husbandry in favor of wholly vegetarian methods of sustenance would be just as unnatural for us as it would be for you fine fellows to go around eating... er... chicken! We must recognize that there is nothing _inherently_ ethically the matter with meat consumption! We humans, just like you cattle, are all part of the great Circle of... erm..."
"Science?" Suggests Feeb.
"Tinned plums?" Asks Bob.
"Entropy and eventual multiversal annihilation?" Volunteers Angus.
"Life!" I finish.
"Watch those copyrights." Says Feeb, quietly.
"Trying to." I murmur. "So you see, gentlecreatures?" I say, raising my voice. "We all should be working _together_!"
I wait. There is nothing but silence.
"That's your finish?" Remarks the grouchy patron.
"I liked it." Says the Burger Youth, at last.
"Good speech, Charles." Says Feeb. "Probably would have worked, too, if they were at all motivated by what you assume they are."
"So, what?" I ask, turning to Angus, my fire a bit gone. "Why are you doing this to us?"
"There is a very easy answer to that, puny creature." Growls Angus. "We are doing what we are because of the simple fact that we are VICIOUS and PSYCHOPATHICALLY MEGALOMANIACAL CRAZED LOONS!"
There is a roar, and a gout of flame belches forth from the cooker in back to punctuate his remark. Bob chortles uncontrollably. Even Saul interrupts his chant to participate in the jocundity with his high, nasal wheeze of a laugh. "WE ARE THREE of the MOST _EVIL_ CATTLE THAT HAVE E'ER BEEN WHELPED UPON THE FACE OF THIS INSIGNIFICANT LITTLE PLANET!" Howls Angus, his captive bolt vibrating in time with his fervor. "Our companion Saul, who now unravels the piteous glyphs at your 'dread portal', is a master of the ancient art of Black _Shemoth_, and is the equal of many dozens of your mortal wizards! Even at his death, he is famed for having recited the _Shemoth_ of Coagulation just as the Rabbi's stroke fell, causing his blood to gather in his flesh, and thus rendering it sanguine and unusable by Kosher standards!"
"That _is_ evil!" Remarks Feeb, appreciatively.
"Indeed!" Says Angus, his eyes glowing.
"What about you, then?" Asks Feeb.
"Feeb..." I ask, looking oddly at her.
"(SHADDUP!)" She whispers to me. "(Ot-gay an-play!)"
"I... was a _general_." Says Angus, ignoring us, his voice ringing. "Oh, the stampedes I led! Great charges against you and your minific dolthood of a species. It was a fortunate ranch hand indeed who escaped my troop movements! And I have it on good authority that those that did survive left forever their careers in livestock-handling, their confidence _utterly_ shattered!" He smiles for a moment at a far-gone memory. "I took seventeen of them with me on the day that I was at last led to the abattoir. Many of those in attendance remarked that the captive bolt was 'too good' a way for me to go."
Angus's mouth quivers in pride, his fervor growing. "Ah, Deities of Darkness! The HYMNS that we sang! Your nerve would have been reduced to jelly with the merest note, had you been there!"
"Doubtless." Says Feeb. "And Bob?"
There is a bit of a pause. Angus shuffles one of his hooves.
"Bob... er, well, he vectored a particularly nasty strain of Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease into Ormskirk, he did."
"Treacle Pudding." Remarks Bob, proudly.
"I see." Says Feeb. "He really didn't do it on _purpose,_ though, did he?"
"Well, no." Says Angus, looking a bit downcast. Quickly, he snaps back. "But he _is_ evil!"
"Pray tell, how?"
"Well... one time there was this... er... this _fence_, see... and, well... erm... one day..."
Angus trails off, under Feeb's calm gaze.
"And?" She asks.
"ENOUGH!" Gnashes Angus, recovering his old comfiture. "I DEMAND SILENCE FROM YOU, FRAGILE BIPED!"
"One word, _balebos_." Hisses Saul, at the door. "Simply speak, and I shall use my most potent arts to transfigure them into serpents and salamanders. They will crush nicely beneath our feet..."
"Belay, Saul. As they say in my homeland, 'a crushed salamander cannot slather your body in fine oils and feed you grapes from platters of gold.'" He gestures daintily with his chin. "I shall not lose my playthings so easily."
"As you wish, Lord and Master."
"Tell me more of these Hymns, O Potent One!" Says Feeb, whose eyes have now begun to clearly show that temporary paydirt look.
"Ah." Says Angus, drifting away again. "They were masterworks, a thousand stanzas long, each word pure poetry. It is truly a shame that more of my people are not here, else we would give you a rendition to chill the souls of the gods."
"Teach us!" Shrieks Feeb, her eyes dancing madly.
"You?" Says Angus, momentarily taken aback. "But... you... You creatures could never do our Bovine anthems their due!"
"We are to be soldiers in your dread legions, are we not?" Counters Feeb. "Your most loyal minions! Though we cannot hope to do your battle-hymns just rendition, pitiful beasts that we are, surely you would not begrudge your loyal soldiers that which has in the past made your armies invulnerable!"
"You speak well, oh cream-haired one." He licks his black, undead lips with a ragged tongue. "You shall be special indeed within our new order!"
"Ew." Says the Burger Youth, daintily, in a rare display of negative emotion.
Feeb ignores him. "Yes!" She says. "Yes, Dark Master. Teach us, your willing peons, the anthems of your people!"
Angus closes his eyes in rapture, a scene that might almost be peaceful were it not for the spectral captive bolt protruding from the skull at a point somewhere between them. "I do not expect your pronunciation to be perfect. Yet. But in their ideal form, they sound a bit like this..."
Angus clears his throat.
The sound dies away.
"Stanza one." He says, hoarsely.
Feeb turns to the rest of the crowd. She raises one eyebrow.
The grouchy patron, referenced before, begins rubbing the back of his neck, a weird expression on his face.
There is silence.
"Moo!" Volunteers the Burger Youth, suddenly.
"Ahhh..." Sighs Angus. Feeb nods emphatically to everyone, her smile impossibly bright and her eyes ablaze, her arms waving around like a conductrix's. Shortly, the rest of the patrons have joined in, great and small, each working out his own variation of Angus's utterances in ragged asynchrony with every other. Angus is transfixed, his head nodding to the unseen beats, eyes closed in memory. When everyone is good and going, Feeb rushes over to my side.
"Hey," I laugh. "Pretty good plan!"
"It won't hold them for long." Whispers Feeb. "We've only bought ourselves a little time with this charade. "We need to think up a more permanent solution, but quick!"
"Phones?" I suggest. "Call for help?"
Feeb shakes her head. "Anyone who'd show up to rescue us would have to come right in the front doors. Saul there wouldn't even _have_ to finish his ritual. And the building is shielded from exterior assault. I'm afraid all we've got to work with is ourselves."
"'Ourselves' being... anyone in the immediate area of the building."
"Right." Says Feeb. "Luke and Buddy are assistance-impaired. And even if most of these other poor sots weren't scared out of their nighties, they _must_ keep making cow sounds."
"I just realized how weird this would sound to someone who didn't know what was going on."
"Yeah. Kind of funny, ain't it."
We pause to consider this for a moment.
"Anyway." I say, shaking my head. "Looks like all we have to work with is you... and me... and..."
"What?" Asks Feeb.
"We've got another potential player." I say, shielding my eyes.
"Who?" Asks Feeb, beginning a pattern.
"I don't even want to say." I say. "You wait here. I've got to do something really unpleasant."
I walk over to the Burger Youth, who is mooing away to beat the band. "S'cuse me." I say.
"Yes?" He says, breaking cadence.
"I need you to draw another map for us." I say, setting my jaw.
"Oh, sure." Says the Youth. "I'm not all that familiar with the area; as I said, I was just transferred here a little while ago." He clicks his pen, expertly, exposing brass. "I'll sure try, though. What d'you need a map of?"
I grit my teeth.
"The sewers." I say.