Aphelion Issue 278, Volume 26
November 2022
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Con of the Dead

by Stephen Patrick

"Honey, I already told you, I'm headed down. 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 lights over the elevator door 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 arm.

His cell phone chirped. He looked down to see a new text message from his wife reminding him to have enough cash ready to tip the bellhop.

Ping. Another floor down as the red LED display on the control panel flashed from six to five.

His phone rang.

"Yes, Honey, 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.

"Foolish human!" growled one man through jagged teeth. The tortoise-shell ridges of his forehead made the lenses of his glasses look even thicker somehow...

"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 he ducked and leaped to avoid the spiked knees and armored shoulders of the advancing horde.

Paul braced his feet beneath him and lunged at the first sliver of light that emerged between the part-time Klingons. 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 w 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. Yet no one said anything.

Paul 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. 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. "Braynes." They repeated, each one standing up and reaching out toward him.

"Oh my God," Paul screamed.

Outstretched hands reached for him; some filled with pens and autograph books, others filled with dog-eared amateur screenplays.

Paul threw open the door and grabbed his cell phone, frantically hitting redial. A plastic sword 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, dude?" 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 as the sword fell from his grasp.

Paul spied his cellphone down the hall near a table covered with movie posters, swag items and a charity book donation box. He ran toward it, but four hands clutched at his shoulders, pulling him backward. 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 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" urged him to find another place to call. He stepped hard to his left as a feint, before twisting to his right and ducking through two 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.

He leaned against a table to catch his breath. The air was thick with the scent of moth-balls on Wookie costumes and stale Frito pie.

A soft voice came from behind him, "So, are you a fan of post-apocalyptic vampire comedies?"

He 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 my 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 tracking Paul's flight through the room. "There he is."

"Who?" asked the woman.

"Thomas Braynes."

"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. He fell to one knee as the parade of chanting Klingons stomped toward him through the open door.

The floor shuddered beneath him as the steel and leather onslaught stormed around him. Paul crawled forward, dodging spiked boots and clanging weapons until the parade had passed. He reached the door just before it latched shut. His fingers were pinched by the heavy door, but he was able to pull it open.

Suddenly, the footsteps behind him stopped. A guttural command was given in Klingon and a dozen boots scraped across the floor in a military about-face. Behind them, a pasty white face appeared over the shoulder of a tall warrior. "That's him, Thomas Braynes."

The orderly procession dissolved into chaos as Bat'leths 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. 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 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?"

"Yes, why?"

"Just go. Now!"

He 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.


© 2010 Stephen Patrick

Bio: Stephen Patrick is a police officer in the Dallas, TX area. He has an M.S. in Human Development. His writing has appeared in Withersin, Nocturnal Ooze, The Writer's Post Journal, Aphelion (most recently Listen, April 2008), Dark Recesses Press, and Bewildering Stories among others. He is a four time winner of the Rowlett, TX Adult Short Story Competition and was named an Arkansas Traveller after winning the 2007 special prize at the Arkansas Writers Conference.

E-mail: Stephen Patrick

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