The Problem With Harry, and other stories

As you might have surmised from the title, this is another of my short story collections. Most of the stories are ones which were lying unfinished on my computer, and which I only finished off years later. In this collection you will find stories about God and the Devil, zombies, marital revenge, murder, cinema workers, and other things.

I really enjoyed finally finishing these stories. Most worked out the way that I had intended – only a couple proved to have a life of their own.

Here follows one of my favourite stories from the collection, a dark little tale which amused me.

Complete short story from the collection: The Death Industry

Inhaling the ectoplasm of the marijuana ghosts, getting a dead druggie kick and a desire for phantom munchies, David Banhold was one of a growing number of people to take advantage of what was known as the ‘Death Industry’. Less than a decade beforehand, people had not even believed in the existence of ghosts. But that had all changed with the Vladivostok Incident. Life – and death – had not been the same since. Banhold shuddered. He did not even like to think of what had happened there. But it had changed the world; and, out of the darkness of that day, a lot of new, and potentially very lucrative things, had come.

Banhold flipped his mobile open. He was on flexi-time – or ghost hours, as they were called now, for some reason.

“I’ll be in in two.” Banhold said, meaning two hours time. “I’ve just been sampling a major league pothead; won’t be down ’til then. Tell Zabrisky that I want to see him when I get in.”

Banhold worked at The Necris Corp, one of the many new corporations that had sprung up in the wake of Vladivostok. Banhold was a new product designer; which meant that he also got paid to try out new lines like Ectoplasmic Intoxication That was only a working title for the product – when it was finally rolled out it would be called something snappier, and far more commercial. Zabrisky was Banhold’s long-suffering assistant; otherwise known as his shade.

The Necris Corp had achieved great sales figures with WinoPlasm; but now Thanatos, Inc was trying to undercut The Necris Corp with their own range. So, as inhaling the ectoplasmic remnants of those who had died after long-term substance abuse (whether alcohol or drug related) gave the imbiber the ‘hit’ without any of the nasty physical after-effects, Necris Corp was moving on from winos to druggies. After all, not everybody wanted to experience a Thunderbird-style stupor, when they could experience a perfectly safe phantom coke-style effect.

Banhold wanted to get into management, into the upper strata where the serious moolah was made, and he did not care who he used as a doormat to achieve his aims. Product design was all very well, but he was pretty sure that The Necris Corp in all sorts of other stuff, stuff that Joe Public never got to hear about. Word was that the US military was interested in a zombie soldier prog – but that was just a rumour, of course. Of course it was.

“Billions, absolutely billions, simply waiting to be farmed out.” Banhold said, as he relaxed into his Better Bean Bag chair. The chair contained a forced possession – the spirit imprisoned inside would cause the chair to be moulded into the most comfortable position possible for Banhold’s body.

Zabrisky heard things, Banhold knew. That was supposed to be the reason why The Necris Corp had hired Zabrisky in the first place. He was a sensitive, and he was supposed to be able to hear snippets from the Dead. Well, Banhold could always use somebody who could get info, no matter where it came from. Banhold wanted to know what was going on in the Vaults. He suspected that whatever was taking place down there was not strictly legal – or that it was something that The Necris Corp did not want leaking out. Certain areas of research had been banned after the Vladivostok Incident. With the correct leverage – let’s not call it blackmail, okay? – Banhold could soon be one of the senior partners.

Two and a bit hours later, Banhold parked his Porsche Fantome in the big car park reserved for members of The Necris Corp. The Fantome was a good car – people would kill for a car as good as the one Banhold had just parked – but he was already thinking about his next one. The Ferrari Zeitgeist was about to hit the production lines. In black, with the bone-coloured trim.

In his ultra-modern office, Banhold spun around in his office chair a couple of times, while waiting for Zabrisky to appear. David Banhold despised Zabrisky, perhaps because he was a little scared of his ‘shade’. There was something creepy about Zabrisky. To Banhold, the whole Death Industry was nothing but a way to make money: Banhold sometimes wondered where Zabrisky’s loyalties lay – the dead, or the living.

“Yes, Banhold?” a voice said from behind him.

Banhold almost fell out of his swivel chair. He had not heard Zabrisky enter the room. He’d have to put a bell around the little creep’s neck, or something. Banhold also disliked the fact that Zabrisky referred to him as Banhold, rather than Mr Banhold; but there was nothing that he could do about that. For the moment.

“How’s tricks among the dead, Zabrisky?” Banhold asked.

“The dead aren’t happy, Banhold.” Zabrisky said, in all seriousness. His eyes darted from side to side as if he was looking out for hidden horrors.

“The dead aren’t anything apart from ectoplasm or old bones.” Banhold sighed. “There’s no real consciousness there. It’s only echoes of what the person once was, if anything. They have less real sentience than a flea. Everybody knows that.”

“Their minds are out there. They get split, that’s all. I hear their whispers. They don’t like us, what we’re doing to them.”

“Well, that’s partly what I wanted to talk to you apart.” Banhold said, deciding that it was time to get down to business. The less time that he spent in the company of Zabrisky, the better, as far as he was concerned.

“Oh?” Zabrisky said, his voice descending to a whisper. “Are you starting to believe, then?”

“Not what you do.” Banhold said. “I’m not an idiot. But you do manage to acquire pieces of information. I can’t deny that. Nor do I care where you get the info from. All that I want from you is to know what’s currently going on in the Vaults.”

“The Vaults are restricted. I have never been down to the Vaults.”

“Yet I’m betting that you’ve still got a pretty keen idea what’s going on down there.” Banhold said. “Come on, Zabrisky, I’m your boss. You can tell me. In fact, I insist that you tell me – if you know what’s good for you.”

“Yes, you are my boss.” Zabrisky said, apparently not noticing the veiled threat. “The Vaults, yes, the Vaults. It is very secret the project that they are doing down there. It is codenamed the Lazarus Project.”

“What’s the Lazarus Project?” Banhold asked.

“It is about life, and death, and moving from one state to the other. They seek to blur the boundaries. It is not a good idea. They want to live forever, the ones at the top. To be restored to life should they die. It is breaking the balance. There must be a balance between life and death.”

“Rubbish.” Banhold said. “Ectoplasm is mindless, anyway.”

“There are three parts, they know now. Mind, body and spirit. Bones and ectoplasm and soul. They think that they can unify all three. The dead don’t like it.”

“Okay, you can go now.” Banhold said.

Banhold had some thinking to do. His superiors, the ones at the very top of The Necris Corp, intended to live forever. If that happened, he might never become a senior partner. Well, he could not allow that to happen. But he could not risk exposing his superiors, either. This was too big. If he exposed them, then he had an inkling that all traces of the Lazarus Project might disappear from the Vaults, as surely as if the project had never existed. But he wanted in. He wanted to live forever, as well.

He had to get assigned to the Project. But he had to do it without revealing that he was aware of the project. Aargh! It was infuriating.

Then it came to him. He would suggest something along the lines of the Lazarus Project itself. Nothing too close (he did not want them to suspect anything). But close enough to indicate to them that he was a genius. Then, seeing his genius, they would bring him onto the main project itself.

Zabrisky was in the Vaults. He was not supposed to be in the Vaults, but the dead did not mind, and none of the living knew, although Banhold suspected. Yes, Banhold suspected mush, but he would never understand. He thought that the world was ruled by money, and that having the newest, shiniest car made you something special.

Zabrisky listened. He listened to the angry souls, ripped apart for the ectoplasm that fed the death industry. Without ectoplasm, the souls would soon fade. Life needed flesh, and the afterlife needed afterflesh, as Zabrisky thought of it.

Zabrisky knew all about the Lazarus Project. It was all about the rich, thinking that they could buy themselves more life, at the expense of the dead. The scientists in the Vaults knew the truth, and they did not care. They knew more than avaricious fools like Banhold ever would. The truth was, what they were attempting with the Lazarus Project was what they had attempted in Vladivostok. Back then, they had not known about the trinities of life and afterlife… and the results had been too gruesome to consider… the whole city had been infected… the Russians had been forced to use a nuclear device on their own populace. Since then, such experiments were ‘banned’ – which only meant that they went on in secret.

The paradigm of life and death…

Banhold swivelled in his chair, trying to think what he knew about the Lazarus Project. Very little, to tell the truth. He remembered the name Lazarus from somewhere… the Bible, wasn’t it? Christ had brought him back from the dead. But they wouldn’t try and combine the living and the dead… not after Vladivostok. Banhold had seen the video of what had occurred, fragments culled from CCTV broadcasts before the bomb. He still got nightmares about it.

He sensed a presence behind him. He swivelled on his chair, almost falling off it. It was bloody Zabrisky again, creeping up on him. When he was in power, one of his first acts would be to sack the little creep.

I know.” Zabrisky said.

What?” Banhold asked. Why couldn’t Zabrisky speak normally?

I know what they are doing.” Zabrisky said. “The dead told me, in the vaults. I know all about the Lazarus Project. They are draining the spirits of the dead, absorbing their life force, and trying to give it to the living, so that those who have too much money will not die. But the dead don’t like it. We prey on them, using them to make money, but they have more power than you can possibly imagine. It will be another Vladivostok. Death and life cannot exist together.”

That was a nuclear explosion.” Banhold said, echoing the cover story which had been released to the press. It was an old nuclear reactor which went into meltdown. It was nothing to do with the dead.”

But, even as he said those words, Banhold felt uneasy. He had felt, for some time, that something secret had been going on, down in the Vaults, something which the senior partners had not wanted anybody to find out about.

Anyway, you’re not supposed to go down to the Vaults.” Banhold said. “You know that area is restricted. You could get sacked for going down there.”

Yes, but you’re not going to tell, are you?” Zabrisky said. He slinked away without saying another word to Banhold.

Banhold sat in his chair, for a long time, thinking about what that creepy little man Zabrisky had said. Banhold should really report Zabrisky, and finally get the guy sacked. Banhold would then never have to see him again.

But Banhold kept thinking about what Zabrisky had said, about something going on in the Vaults. If there was something going on down there which was illicit then Banhold did not see how it could be going on without the senior partners’ knowledge and approval. They knew everything which went on at the Necris Corp. So they had to know… they had to know if anything dangerous or illegal was going on down there.

Suddenly Banhold saw a shortcut to being a senior partner. He bet that if there was something going on in the Vaults which was dangerous that the senior partners would not want it to be revealed. All that he would have to do is to find out just what the hell it was which Zabrisky had been muttering about, and blackmail the senior partners, threatening to reveal the information. They would make him one of the senior partners then, with all of the extra money which such a position would bring. He could have an even better car. He could get a new apartment, one of those right at the top of the skyscrapers, a whole floor to himself from where he could look down on the city. He could get a whole new wardrobe of the flashiest clothing in existence. And, more importantly, he would never have to deal with Zabrisky ever again.

Late that night, after everybody else had gone home, Banhold went down into the Vaults. If he was caught, before finding anything incriminating, then he knew that he would be fired, as only special operatives were allowed down into the Vaults. He was not one of those operatives, those who dealt directly with the remains of the dead, those who extracted the ectoplasm from the dead. It was supposed to be a terrifying task. But it was also the source of the money on which companies like Necris and Thanatos were based.

Getting into the Vaults was easy, despite the computerised lock on the great metal door. Zabrisky had told Banhold the combination a long time ago, claiming that the dead had whispered it to him. Still, though, Banhold was a little bit surprised when the combination worked, and the great steel door swung open, without any alarms going off.

Banhold, as he lit his torch – not risking turning the lights on, in case it tripped some alarm – did not stop to wonder why the Vaults needed to be sealed up like this, when there was nothing inside but the bodies of the dead. If he had stopped to consider the matter, the conclusion that he would have reached would have been that it was to prevent commercial espionage by the likes of Thanatos. He would not have considered that it might be to keep something in, rather than somebody out.

The Vaults looked like a tomb. For some reason he had always thought that they would look more modern. He had expected plastic and chrome, despite the name. But the Vaults looked like… well, some old-fashioned vaults, as might be found under some old country house.

The place was constructed of of old stone. A series of arched, linked columns supported the roof of this vast place. And the Vaults really were vast. They looked as though they went on forever. But Banhold knew that could not be true.

He knew why Zabrisky liked coming down here. The place was creepy, and it perfectly suited creepy little Zabrisky. This really was a place of the dead.

Banhold shone his torch to the side. He could see, here and there, stone slabs. Some of them were empty. But a lot of them held recently dead corpses on them. Banhold could see that the nearest dead body had wiring attached to it. The wiring was attached to a machine. The machine extracted ectoplasm from the dead body, in a process which was not fully understood by Banhold. But it worked, and it made money, and that was all that mattered.

There was nothing suspicious about such a machine. Mind and body and spirit, that was what Zabrisky had muttered. But it was all rubbish. There was nothing wrong with exploiting the dead. It was not as though they could still feel anything. But the discovery of ectoplasm… well, if that had not been found, then Banhold would not currently be driving his Fantome car.

Still, though, he moved cautiously, as he went further into the Vaults. He thought that he could hear dripping water, from somewhere. But he knew that could not be the case. It had to be his overactive imagination. They would not have any running water down here. But he could not hear the dead whispering, either. Of course they did not whisper. That had just been Zabrisky being weird.

As Banhold moved between the dead bodies on their slabs Banhold wondered if Zabrisky had made up what he had said about there being ties Lazarus Project. So far Banhold had not seen anything but standard ectoplasm extraction.

He hoped that he was not risking getting fired by being down here just on a wild goose chase. But he moved on, through the Vaults, nevertheless, powered forwards by the dream of becoming a senior partner in this company in the death industry.

The Vaults were a lot more extensive than he had first imagined. They went a lot further, underground, than the building did above ground. Banhold went past dead body after dead body. But they were no longer people to Banhold. They were merely husks, ones which helped to provide him with his current style of life.

Then, just when he was about to give up, he saw a door, in the far wall of the Vaults. The door was barred from this side, a large metal block having been slid across the door. But there were no electrical locks on it.

They had even labelled the door as the Lazarus Project. Of course, for everything had to have a label. It appeared that Zabrisky had not been lying, after all. Not that Banhold would ever thank Zabrisky for this. No, Banhold simply wanted to get promoted away from that strange little man.

Banhold approached the barred door. As he did so, he did not notice a person sneaking behind him, following him, moving from shadow to shadow. Nor did Banhold, as he drew back the bar on the door, wonder why they had used a bar in the first place. For a metal bar would not keep any intruder out. A bar on such a door could only keep out of the Vaults anything which was on the other side of the door.

Banhold slid the metal door back, and pulled the door open. The room beyond was small, at least compared to the rest of the Vaults. Unlike the Vaults, this place was lit, but only by a very faint blue light, from lighting strips on the wall.

There were banks of computers. They were all on, at the moment, little lights blinking away. They were connected to four bodies, on metal slabs in the centre of this Lazarus Project.

The bodies, Banhold knew, had to be the bodies of dead men. So they were only money, as far as he was concerned. But they looked a little bit different to the ones on the slabs in the rest of the Vaults. They did not look, well, quite so dead to Banhold. But that was ridiculous, he knew.

He went over to the computers, looking to see if there was some printer attached. if there was, he could easily print off a hard copy of what the hell they were doing down here. Otherwise he would have to search this room for some sort of memory stick, or the equivalent, as he had not thought to bring on with him.

Suddenly, as he was standing at one of the computers, having just called up the details of the Lazarus Project, he felt hands on his wrists, pulling him away from the computer consoles.

Hey, what gives?” Banhold shouted, thinking that some security guard must have followed him into the Vaults, a security guard who was about to be browbeaten by Banhold, and threatened with the sack. Banhold was not going to be manhandled by anybody.

Banhold was turned around. He turned pale, as he saw that it was not some security guard who was holding him, but two of the dead bodies who, a moment before, had been lying on the metal slab. They still had the wiring attached to them, the same wiring that attached them to the computers.

The other two dead bodies were also standing up. Banhold could not understand how that could be. They were supposed to be dead. The dead did not move. Then the whole name of the Lazarus Project came back to him.

What gives is that life and death should not be combined in the same body.” a voice said. Banhold turned his head to see Zabrisky step through the doorway.

Zabrisky!” Banhold said. “What the hell are you doing here? Help me get these things off me.”

Zabrisky shook his head, as though Banhold had said the most stupid thing in the entire world. For it was. The reason why Banhold had always been uneasy around Zabrisky… well, it was just about to be explained to him.

Did you never wonder about my name?” Zabrisky asked, softly. “Or how I knew so much about the dead, and how they talked to me? Did you never wonder why I told you about the Vladivostok disaster, or why I knew the truth that the nuclear explosion was only to cover up what had happened there, when all paperwork on that project was destroyed by the Russians, everything about it destroyed?

I was there, at Vladivostok, Banhold. It was I, and others like me, people who were considered to be nobodies, who were experimented on, in the search for a way in which to extend the lifespan of people. Ectoplasm had been used for many things, by then. It was believed that, in fusing it with the bodies of the living, that life might be able to be expanded, ultimately, far beyond the one hundred and twenty years or so which seems to be the limit of the human form. For there were many people in Russia, as here, who wanted to live, if not forever, then for a very long time.

I was one of the results, the only one who escaped. They were successful, in Russia, in fusing the essence of the dad with the bodies of the living. But they did not get the results which they desired. They did not get an expansion of life, but an expansion of death.

I died that night, as did everybody else who was experimented on. But I still move, for the spirits of the dead exist inside me. But it will not be long, now, before the death inside me drains me of what life force remains, and my body falls down, and begins to rot, and the spirits of the dead inside me are released once more. The dead and the living cannot exist in one body, Banhold.”

Banhold was half-listening. But he was still trying to break free, against the hands which held him. But he found that the dead were far stronger than he was. They no longer felt pain, or got tired. Even if he had broken their fingers he could not have broken free. He was condemned to listen to what else Zabrisky had to say.

Those that were created were half-alive, and half-dead, and full of fury, against the crimes which had been committed against them.” Zabrisky continued. “The souls of the dead, confined to bodies which would also die, although not that soon. There was enough animation… oh, for years, if nothing was down to destroy them. But instead of having their lives extended, those who had been living now had their lives massively shortened, by the foolish search for immortality.

They rose up in rebellion against the Russian scientists who had doomed them. Except that I knew that such a rebellion would be doomed from the start. That facility was too well defended. So I sneaked away, to keep what few years of life remained inside me. I would take a different route to justice.

I got out just in time. They let off a low yield nuclear device at Vladivostok, the Russians did, because my compatriots in undeath had seized control of the whole facility by then. The Russians wiped out an entire city, rather than reveal what had happened there, or let any of us escape. Except that I was already far enough away. I saw the night sky turn to day, and felt the wind about me. But I survived. I had got away.

I knew that people would try again, using the dead, not caring what they did. So I came to America, where they had companies like Thanatos and Necris. I knew that your scientists would try to take the spirits of the dead to extend the lives of the living, for they had used the spirits of the dead for everything else. I knew that they would not stop with their other creations. Those fools did not care what harm they were doing to the bodies, the spirits and the minds of those who were dead. They saw them as nothing more than a way to earn money. Fools, all of them.

With my… inside knowledge of death it was easy for me to get a job here. I began to investigate this company. It was not that hard, for one who can hear the dead, being one of them myself. I heard the dead in the Vaults. And, eventually, I heard that they had started this Lazarus Project… and I knew that this was the same horror that the Russians had done in Vladivostok, that which had condemned me to the state that I am in today…”

Zabrisky’s voice trailed off, at least for the moment.

I’ll help you!” Banhold almost screamed. Being held by things which were neither properly dead, yet not properly alive, had driven him to the edge of madness. He would say anything, promise anything, to get out of there. “I’ll reveal this to the press. I’ll help you close this down!”

You don’t understand.” Zabrisky said, quietly. “I did not bring you down here so that you could reveal what is going on here. I brought you here because our numbers are not yet enough to move against the Necris Corps. We need more bodies of the living… and you are the first of an army which we will build, to destroy Necris, and Thanatos, and anybody else who seek to make money out of the dead.”

As Banhold was dragged towards one of the metal slabs, and tied down, and wiring attached to him, there was absolutely nothing that he could do but to scream.

 

The Problem with Harry, and other stories is available as an e-book on the Amazon Kindle store.

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