Posts Tagged ‘Doctor Holiday’

Before you read the story below, some backstory about it, which you may or may not care about (and can always skip if you like).

I don’t think there’s been any other chapter or short story I’ve written for this blog that has posed as much of a challenge for me, taken as long to write and required so many tweaks before it finally got posted. For one thing, this is a Doctor Holiday story, and as you know if you’ve been a regular reader, I tend to post those stories within a few days before or after the appropriate holiday. This one was intended to be a Halloween story. Aside from the fact I had trouble figuring out how to progress and finish the story (and was busy with paying work and such), I didn’t get it done. Finally, I realized that I could have it start on Halloween and finish on Thanksgiving, but then still got hung up time-wise and couldn’t quite finish in time.

Then I had the problem that the story just wasn’t *quite* jelling and I didn’t really have an ending for it yet, and so much tinkering later, I finally have the story, more than a week after Thanksgiving and nearly a month after the original date of Halloween. I am ashamed.

I’m also nervous, because in hindsight, I wonder if this story is really a complete story that stands well on its own, or whether it only serves the purpose of giving more insight into Doctor Holiday and providing some foreshadowing of a future storyline that will take place a long while after I finally finish “The Gathering Storm.”

Picking Up the Pieces

By Deacon Blue / Jeffrey Bouley

November 5, 2012

Rotors spun, and thoughts with them, and Cal Furtado wondered which was the greater flurry of activity. As the helicopter set down on the tarmac of McCarran International Airport several miles outside of Las Vegas, though, he realized it was a stupid and frivolous thought.

helicopter-1The helicopter was powering down, and the blades of the rotors were slowing. The noise of them was steadily ramping down already. Quiet was gaining power over the cacophony there.

The thoughts in his head were as tumultuous as ever, though—perhaps more so now that he wasn’t distracted by the sounds and movements of the vehicle that had flown him here.

Here, of all places. Clark County in Nevada. Home to Las Vegas—“Sin City” itself—as well as the more biotech- and computer-focused city of Gryphon. The latter would be his ultimate destination, and it felt wrong somehow to be going there, when so much was happening in New York and New Jersey. In fact, he’d originally been set to fly a charter plane to the Northeast just a few hours from now.

It was roughly a week since Hurricane Sandy had pounded the East Coast and flooded so much of New York and New Jersey, even though it wasn’t a hurricane anymore by that point—not really—more like an amalgamation of weather patterns that had mixed together in a violent and unseemly manner. Many people were still without power as temperatures fell below freezing lately at night, and much of the subway system in New York City was still unusable thanks to flooding, along with most of the traffic tunnels for cars and trucks.

So much damage, and he should be there to oversee things for such a major undertaking, since he wasn’t just a co-founder of Quicksilver Recovery Inc.—along with Eileen Kosume and Jim Castile—but also the chief operating officer and chief information officer. Jim wouldn’t be there, as he had plenty to do as CEO in their Chicago headquarters. But Eileen would. As company president, she tended to shuttle between the two main satellite offices in Connecticut and Southern California anyway. After all, one of Quicksilver’s specialties was cleaning and recovery efforts after big dust-ups between transhumans or after the actions of transhumans against normals, and most of the big transhuman activity tended to be in the Southwest, Northeast and Midwest.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had tapped Quicksilver to help out after Hurricane Sandy struck with Mother Nature’s wrath, as had several insurance companies, and Cal felt that was where he should be. Where the most people were hurting right now and where everything needed to be handled just right, given the billions upon billions of dollars of damage wrought already.

But Eileen would pull the oversight duty for Quicksilver’s portion of the Sandy cleanup, now that Cal had been pulled away and sent to Nevada, after a quick pitstop at the Los Angeles office.

Because just as Quicksilver had a reputation for quick and effective handling of post-transhuman damage, so too did Cal himself have a bit of a reputation for piecing together mysteries almost as well as he handled his COO and CIO duties—a useful skill sometimes when transhuman-related disaster areas were involved.

The devastation in Gryphon—particularly at the city’s only significant casino, Cyberwalk—was a mystery, even five days after the chaos, and people wanted answers as well as relief and rebuilding.

Because it wasn’t just any mystery—not just any disaster—it was one that had signs of transhumans all over it.

* * *

October 31, 2012

The brown cloth strips hugged his face tightly; he almost felt as if they were all that was holding him together. His mind, at least. His personality.

Or, at least, the one he possessed right now.

The sun was still high in these early afternoon hours, with no hint of the impending night, but that would come soon enough. Halloween would arrive in earnest, and there would be revelers. Children wandering the streets of residential neighborhoods in the less tourist-oriented parts of the city and in the outlying suburbs of Las Vegas.

And even more so in Gryphon, the rival to California’s Silicon Valley, for which gambling was an afterthought, and so many families lived, depending on high-tech industries and living in planned communities (But I bet they never planned for me). Living “normal” lives in the more decadent shadow of Las Vegas (But the normals are about to get a visit from Doctor Holiday).

I’m not in Gryphon yet, but I’m meant to be there, he thought. Not now, but soon enough. My legs seem to know what I can’t yet consciously grasp. I have miles to go before I sleep. Before I slumber until the next holiday. For now, I wander Vegas.

Although night hadn’t fallen, this was a city known for partying even during the day, and what better way to party in Sin City for adults and those barely grown—or pretending with fake IDs to be legal—than to dress up in outfits outrageous and garish and often slutty.

Adults young and old up and down the strip, and even some children. Vegas had tried to become more of a family-friendly place on the surface, at least, but the emphasis remained on gambling, drinking, smoking and other vices. Those were what truly paid the bills here. Even in these leaner economic times, there were many people about, dressed normally or in costumes. Simply strolling or on their way to parties or simply trying to locate parties of which they weren’t yet aware.


There’s someone else in here with me, he suddenly realized. I mean, there are always so many voices inside this skull. Or perhaps more accurately, many presences. They didn’t all speak at once; some shouted, some murmured and many spent long stretches silent. Most of them silent, especially now, on a holiday when just one personality would rule.

But there wasn’t just one this time at center stage—not just himself here in ascendance. He could feel another pressing against him. Impatient. Almost fully aware, though not in control. There were never two at once, though. That didn’t make sense. Then again, not all holidays made sense, he considered. There had been other times when things deviated far from the norm, like when that one personality was allowed to hunt for clues as to their original identity on another Halloween. Not all the answers had been revealed. But he had found their original name from before the transformation. From before Doctor Holiday had been born.

Who is this Other? What does he want? Am I going to have to struggle for control tonight? Is he a good guy like me? A neutral? A mischief-maker? A fool? A villain?

He looked around at the passers-by to make sure no one was taking notice of him. Even on Halloween, people didn’t tend to dress as Doctor Holiday, at least not in any realistic fashion. It made people nervous—sometimes it made them panic. So he didn’t want to be seen.

But no one was paying attention to him, so the psychic emanations he was sending out to make himself unnoticed or at least appear innocuous were holding strong. Despite mental distractions of thinking too much and now feeling that other Doctor Holiday in his head, he wasn’t slipping on control of his powers. Perhaps having been in control of this body before and having the same powers again helped—though, to be honest, he didn’t recall much of a learning curve before when he had this body. It seemed every personality mastered his powers quickly upon emergence.

But now that I think about it, there is something odd about me aside from the mysterious second presence right in the forefront of my brain, isn’t there? I don’t think anyone else in this head has ever held the body on more than one occasion. And here I am, doing a second stint.

And then a voice in his mind, as clear as if someone where standing right next to him in conversation: You and me, both, you simple sonofabitch.

* * *

November 5, 2012

The Cyberwalk hadn’t been the only victim of whatever unknown transhumans had rampaged on Halloween; simply the one that was most hard-hit. But because so much had happened there, the mega-casino had been designated at mission control for both the Quicksilver-led recovery efforts and Cal’s sideline investigation.

Cal was certain that multiple transhumans had to have been involved in the deadly mayhem that had ensued Halloween night. Too much had happened, too soon. It must have been coordinated. That had the feel of some terrorist action, and the notion felt right to him. But then there was the fact that only two groups had stepped forward to claim responsibility for Gryphon’s woes that night, and the FBI had quickly shown both terrorist factions to be liars within two days of the disaster.

So, that seemed to rule out anti-American terrorists; violent activist groups that protested capitalism, consumption or greed; and anti-corporate, anti-technology extremists out to strike a blow to Gryphon’s tech-based economy, which was as yet the only one in the world making huge strides on the artificial intelligence front.

Although, while corporate terrorists might be out, could it be more corporate espionage-oriented instead? Cal wondered. If it was meant to hurt Gryphon, and benefit a company outside the state—or a nation with designs on cornering the AI market—then making a mega-casino the central target would make sense, to draw attention away from the true targets.

He shook his head and began to mutter. That theory fell apart as well, because no high-tech companies, AI-related or otherwise in Gryphon, had seen significant violent activity on Halloween. Nor, he discovered after a quick search online, was there any sign of data theft at such companies that would suggest the mayhem at Cyberwalk and elsewhere was for misdirection.

So, then, why did everyone at Cyberwalk begin to see zombies invading the building and trying to eat people? Cal wondered. Why did a zombie apocalypse scenario suddenly arrive out of nowhere, timed so nicely with the newest season of “The Walking Dead” on TV, sending everyone into a panic?

A panic that had people pummeling the undead senseless left and right as the lights in the casino dimmed. Then, within a half-hour, the lighting was back to normal and there were no undead to be seen. Instead, some 240 dead people in the casino and five times that number injured. When the dust had settled and the injured could be questioned, it turned out that some of them had been beaten by people who thought they were zombies. And the victims who had seemed to be voracious undead, in turn, had been attacking or trying to avoid what they thought were zombies.

A complex illusion that—given the wide scale, the number of people affected and the duration—suggested multiple Psi transhumans had been working in concert, Cal reasoned. But how could they have coordinated so well, and how would a bunch of sociopathic Psis have found each other and managed to band together?

Similar zombie scenarios had broken out elsewhere in Gryphon. Also, a few other violence-based illusions took place as well, but with terrorists or other threats in place of the undead. It had gone on all night, until around midnight, in a spiral pattern radiating out from the casino, one event after another. No single illusion subsequent to the Cyberwalk chaos had been as dramatic or as harmful, but all combined, the events of the night had claimed nearly a thousand lives and left more than 5,000 injured.

But it had all centered on the Cyberwalk Casino. It had begun there. And that was the main reason Cal was here, poring over the records and interviews with guests and employees, as well as reviewing security videos.

Systematic. Spiral. Subsequent. Single-minded?

All the events so similar, and all in a row.

What if there is only one transhuman at work here? Maybe one man or woman did this, starting at the casino and then radiating outward. But how? How could one person do so much with their mind, beginning a little after sundown and running all the way until midnight?


It all ended at midnight, almost on the dot. One person. One day. One holiday.

“Oh, shit,” Cal said aloud, wondering if the authorities already knew what he suspected, and were simply keeping it quiet. Then he swore again, and he started the work of sorting through the casino’s security videos all over again.

* * *

October 31, 2012

He was unnerved by the “Other” in his mind—this personality that wasn’t buried deep and merely murmuring or silent like the dozens (Hundreds?) of others were. This Other had spoken to him directly, then went silent. But Doctor Holiday could still sense him nearby—inside—waiting.

Still, unnerved or not, Doctor Holiday had a purpose. He had saved people the last time he had been in control of this body, more than six years ago. Nearly 20 people at a New Year’s Eve party on a yacht who might have burned or drowned otherwise. He’d saved all of them, and then gone back down in his quiescence in Doctor Holiday’s mind with a sense of satisfaction.

las-vegas-2There was no obvious threat to deal with now, though. No enemy to defeat. No crisis in the making.

So he walked, continuing to make himself essentially invisible by mentally encouraging everyone to ignore him. A few people did a double-take when they saw him. Still others pointed. But only a handful. A couple people had even tried to get the attention of people near them, who could not see what was being pointed out to them.

So, all things considered, a pretty effective form of disguise. When he’d had the body previously several years ago, he had only needed to remain unseen by one person, so it was good to know that the power had wider applicability.

But still, he had no specific purpose.

So he walked, aimlessly.

After a few minutes, he reached out, grabbing a young skateboarder who was about to cross in front of a speeding car, and yanked him away from the road. Snatched quickly and roughly from what would have been certain injury and perhaps skateboarder-cardeath, the youth looked around, confused as to who had saved him. Doctor Holiday walked on, unnoticed.

A few minutes later, reflexively, he intercepted the arm of a purse-snatcher about to victimize a distracted middle-aged woman who Doctor Holiday, for reasons he didn’t fully grasp, knew to be down to the last few dollars she needed to get back home from Vegas. He casually flung the would-be thief into a nearby dumpster and kept walking.

Twelve minutes later, he stepped into a hotel room and stopped a young teen girl from being raped by three college men. One largely untouched and unharmed girl later—along with eight broken limbs among the men—Doctor Holiday then realized that while he might not consciously know where he was going, some part of his mind clearly had an agenda.

He stopped trying to think about it, and let his feet carry him from one task to another. Stranger after stranger was helped, and some lives saved, as he walked through the hours, and toward Gryphon. Eventually, he felt the urge to flag down a cab and did, and let it carry him the rest of the way to the city that he sensed was his ultimate goal. It took a great deal of concentration and pain to allow the cab driver to notice him yet not notice he was Doctor Holiday, but the imperative to take a cab the rest of the way to Gryphon was irresistible.

When he got out of the cab just as dusk was approaching, and it had driven away, Doctor Holiday walked for a few blocks and entered an alley. He promptly doubled over in agony, falling to the ground in a fetal position. He writhed and twitched until the sun was almost down, screaming soundlessly.

When the pain finally passed, he got up and looked to the night sky.

He sensed another in his mind, and smiled. Everything was different now. Before, he had been the “Other” and now he was transcendent.

And it was time for the do-gooder to take a back seat as darkness sat like a shroud upon Halloween.

* * *

November 6, 2012

Cyberwalk was running a quasi-intelligence program in its security system—a precursor to some of the few rudimentary and outrageously expensive AI systems out on the market now. Without the QI, he never could have sorted things out so quickly, but even so, it felt like forever to find what he wanted: A face that was at the scene of every illusory zombie attack in the casino, at the moment it started. In the small hours of the morning, Cal still awake only by the grace of caffeine, the QI finally narrowed it down to one nondescript, average-height, skinny man somewhere in his mid-20s or early 30s.

This completely unremarkable-looking man was no doubt the transhuman Cal suspected was the source of all the trouble.

But it wasn’t whom he had expected.

I expected tall, broad and muscular. Probably with a bandage-covered head and an electronic display over his chest. Instead, the closest thing I found to Doctor Holiday that night was a woman with an Ace-bandage-wrapped face and a faux digital display across her ample bosom that said “Doctor Whore-Daily.”

On the one hand, he felt a thrill of victory to have found the prime suspect and probably perpetrator of all the needless death and injury in Gryphon that night. On the other hand, it disappointed him to find that it wasn’t the one elusive transhuman who seemed to have all the possible powers and too many personalities.

As Cal watched one dimly lit scene on the monitor, the nondescript man walked past a lounge area, at the outside edge of which were mounted a number of hung plants, the bottoms of their pots suspended some six feet off the ground. As the man dodged out of the way of a drunk patron of the bar who was awkwardly fleeing a zombie-that-wasn’t-a-zombie, one of those pots near the presumed transhuman’s head was knocked aside suddenly, and then again when it bounced back against something that wasn’t there.

All that happening six inches or more above the man’s head—but right where his head would have been if he were taller.

Say, several inches over six feet tall and well-muscled, Cal mused. Broad of chest. Wearing an electronic display and his head wrapped in brown cloth strips.

* * *

October 31, 2012

A woman working as a cocktail waitress, struggling to keep the rent paid on a tiny apartment for her and two children, suddenly looked all the world like a bloody, moaning zombie. Not that she knew it. So, when one of the men she’d just zombie womanserved drinks to and flirted with minutes before began beating her with a barstool, she didn’t know why. She could only scream and beg for mercy, her anguish unseen on her supposedly decomposing face and her words unheard from a supposedly twisted, pus-filled mouth.

In another part of the casino, an old man looked like a police officer to the eyes of a nearby accountant. In the chaos, the accountant went to the police officer for help. But to the old man, he saw only a hungry member of the undead lumbering toward him, eager to devour his flesh. He stumbled backwards and fell, feeling his chest constrict with what would be his fourth and final heart attack in eight years. The accountant saw no heart attack but spurting blood instead, and had no one to blame but the zombie that had suddenly appeared behind that poor cop. The accountant beat the zombie down with a heavy vase and then caved in its skull with the police officer’s baton.

It would be several minutes later, when the lights brightened again and the illusions fell away, before he realized that the police baton was an old man’s cane.

And that the zombie he had killed was a 16-year-old cheerleader looking for her parents, while those parents, in turn, were elsewhere busy killing a zombie that would actually turn out to be a grandmother of five enjoying her first vacation in nearly 20 years.

Scene after scene played out. Death after death. Injury after injury. Suffering upon misery.

Doctor Holiday strode through the casino feeling like a god.

I am your god, you ants, he reveled silently in his head, not wanting to draw attention to himself by yelling it out loud. You are nothing. I’m directing your lives like a movie. A pathetic zombie film. I’m going to make you kill each other. You’ll kill for me and for my amusement. You’ll flee and fight in terror now.

And later, he thought to himself giddily, many of them would weep in grief for a long time to come knowing they had someone else’s blood on their hands.

* * *

November 6, 2012

Letting the video play frame-by-frame now, Cal watched closely. After what seemed an interminably long time, he saw it, just for a frame or two, as the illusion faltered just a split-second.

Doctor Holiday.

On the man’s digital chest display, among images of candy corn and black cats, Cal saw part of something that was likely scrolling across it—words and part of one: Trick-or-T

A little while later, the image of Doctor Holiday appeared again in a single frame where the nondescript man had been, and Cal saw -rTreat, Everybo on the display.

For a brief moment, Cal felt elation. Not just because he had cracked the mystery but because like so many large companies, and some smaller ones, Cyberwalk probably had a clause in its main insurance policy, or a rider to it—or even a separate policy—against death and damage by Doctor Holiday.

The likelihood of ever seeing your premiums pay off was ridiculously low, but much like various other forms of disaster insurance, it was a small price to pay each month for a potentially huge payoff.

If Cyberwalk was smart as Cal thought, not only could they easily rebuild, but they’d be able to pay for any legal defenses or settlements that might arise as a result of Doctor Holiday’s aftermath.

Then, more slowly than the elation had kicked in, something darker slid in to take its place. Cal felt cold. Exposed. Anxious.

Suddenly, he was wishing he hadn’t realized who was behind all of this. Being even this close to the boogeyman-made-real was unnerving. Knowing he was in the same building in which the transhuman known as Doctor Holiday had waged destruction and ushered death mere days before made him sick.

Made him feel like the next potential victim.

* * *

Midnight—November 1, 2012

The good one had fought all night, and finally felt himself begin to assert control over his darker half. Felt his grip on the body return as had been the case in the daylight. He held on to his counterpart’s powers somehow to keep them disguised from everyone’s sight, as he propelled their guilty body from the latest crime scene, legs shaking now.

He managed to get a block away before he lost it.

As, both at once, the two Doctor Holidays who had held the body tonight—both of them for their second time—felt control leave them.

The body was no longer their concern as they tottered on the mental precipice, and they found they didn’t care anymore that their freedom had been rescinded. They were prepared to join the others in the muttering multitude who awaited a turn at the body perhaps, on some other holiday.

Both at once, the two personalities sensed him—the one that every single personality forgot about when he took control of the body and always remembered when the holiday was over. The one who knew them all but never controlled the body except for the few moments before and the few after a holiday.

Everyone knew of the Admin, but none remembered ever having heard him speak.

“Take your memories back to the rest,” he said, and his voice was the same as theirs, if the intonations and emotions a slightly different shade. “Whispering and murmuring among yourselves. Take back what it feels like to be two halves of the coin at the same time. What it means to be good and evil in one body. Savior and destroyer. Take back the memory of the pain of sudden transformation, too, when you switched places and your powers changed. Share it. Tell everyone.”

And then they were swept away, and his presence receded as well.

The drone stepped forth into the forefront of Doctor Holiday’s  mind, and life returned to normal.

* * *

November 9, 2012

Although he’d known already for days, Cal had said nothing to the executives of the Cyberwalk Casino what he knew of the perpetrator of their recent woes. Partly, he’d wanted to do some additional investigating, and that meant getting access to a whole lot of other security video and police reports from other areas where Doctor Holiday’s crimes had taken place.

Also, he figured that after all they’d been through, happy news on a Friday would make them feel a lot better—not to mention more generous with Quicksilver’s payment, perhaps. Knowing who the perpetrator had been—and knowing there was a big insurance payout coming—was going to take a lot of the sting out of the recent disaster.

Many other people at other businesses would be happy, too, when the news came out—except perhaps the insurance companies paying the claims.

After introductions had been made and Cal led quickly and succinctly into his findings and conclusions, along with a quick recap of the work Quicksilver had done so far in repair and recovery, the questions flew at him.

How?—and variations of it—were the most fervent and more common.

“Basically, he created an illusion of a major threat, and got people to attack each other thinking they were acting in self-defense,” Cal had said at one point. “Used the same trick to hide himself.”

“We already knew people were hallucinating. But how could it be an illusion projected by Doctor Holiday? You could see it on the cameras, too. There wasn’t any mind trick going on,” one vice president had interjected.

“It wasn’t a Psi power. It was a Luminar power,” Cal said. “He essentially generated holograms of everything. Amazingly complex. Impossibly so. He drew on the available light, which is why everything got so much darker during the event—I think a lot of people assumed there was something wrong with the power, but there wasn’t. It was Doctor Holiday creating the most impossibly perfect light show to fool everyone. It also seems he had some ability to tamper with sound as well, though that wasn’t quite as intricate.”

He’d answered a bunch of technical questions for a while thereafter—and repeated his explanation in more ways than he felt necessary—but with the revelation it was Doctor Holiday, the sense of relief was palpable. Not a terrorist threat but rather a transhuman basket-case who had never been known to strike the same place twice—almost never even the same city or town twice.

For Cal, though, the sense of doom only deepened, even as he realized he’d made everyone’s day—not the least of whom would be his fellow company co-founders, CEO Jim Castile and President Eileen Kosume.

* * *

November 12, 2012

He walked, as the drone always walked, with no purpose and yet with all purpose. He knew the others in the head called him drone mockingly. Some called him robot or retard. Condescendingly. Dismissively.

Most of them, anyway, even though their survival all depended on him.

He didn’t care.

It wasn’t in his nature to care. He had no ego, no emotion, no agenda. No sense of right or wrong or future. No aspirations.

A few days before every holiday, he wrapped the bandages around their head and strapped on the digital display unit across their chest. Sometimes he would dress festively in advance of the holiday, if the Admin so directed. A few days after the holiday, he would find someplace to hide the display and bandages until they were needed again.

Other than that, his only concerns were to eat and drink; to piss and shit. And, when necessary, to sleep. He rarely had money, but the drone always found safe food and secure shelter.

There were no other tasks.

Except, sometimes, to watch for things the Admin and the Others might care about.

Like the headline of a newspaper this morning noting that the responsible party for at least 956 deaths in Gryphon, Nevada, was neither a terrorist group nor a group of transhumans but a single man: Doctor Holiday.

At a subtle direction in his head, the drone acquired the newspaper. Read the article. Learned the name of the man who’d put it all together.

He got other papers that day, and found a computer at a local library to do some online research and learn more.

When the Admin was satisfied that he had enough information, the drone stopped working, stood up and walked onward. Toward nothing and everything.

The drone went back to the simple things in life: feeding their body’s needs and voiding its waste products.

* * *

November 22, 2012

At the Furtado household, Cal had only just finished his pumpkin pie when he saw the hulking form in his backyard, mostly hidden by the tall bushes way in back.

He was sure that he had been meant to see him, and at this precise time.

Cal thought about calling the police, or warning his family, but then considered the likely outcome. If Doctor Holiday had wanted to kill him immediately, he would have. And if he wanted every family member and every one of their guests dead, he’d have done it outright. Calling the police or wasting time would only increase the chances he might yet decide to do both.

Without a word to anyone, Cal walked out the back door, and toward the transhuman he had uncovered as Gryphon’s number-one criminal and one of the most notorious mass murderers in modern times—eclipsed in that regard only by Patient Zero.

When he drew close, not knowing what else to do, Cal quietly babbled, “I guess you didn’t want to be found out. I…guh-guess as far as last meals go, a juicy turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry suh-sauce isn’t bad.”

“Shut up,” Doctor Holiday said, “and step over here. And don’t forget you had green bean casserole, candied sweet potatoes and a slice of pumpkin pie, too. Not to mention all that apple cider and wine.”

“Do you have to kill me?” Cal asked nervously.

“Unlike some of us in here, I’m not into playing with my prey. If you were to be killed, you’d be dead. And what part of ‘shut up’ was hard to understand? Pay attention, or I may revise how this evening ends for you. It’s been a quiet holiday for once for Doctor Holiday, particularly with this covered up,” the transhuman said, patting the digital monitor on his chest, the lighted display of which was obscured by what seemed to be a thick blanket. “I’d like to keep it that way.”

Cal followed Doctor Holiday, his legs wobbly and throat dry. He almost got out the word, “Why?” before he remembered to be quiet.

Finally, Doctor Holiday stopped, turned around, and looked down at Cal’s five-foot-nine-inch frame from six feet, six inches up—two of those inches from the work boots he currently wore. He threw off the bit of heavy canvas covering the display on his chest and Cal saw that displayed in bold letters was HAPPY THANKSGIVING! while small animations played around those words. Turkeys running from knife-wielding farmers. Native Americans waving at Pilgrims before being shot down with muskets in response. A Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon in the shape of Snoopy bursting into flame.

Closer now, Cal could also see what the night had hid previously: the black Pilgrim’s hat perched on top of Doctor Holiday’s head, so small that it must be a child’s size. Cal stifled a giggle of nervous terror and waited, shivering.

“I think we can talk now, Mr. Furtado.”

“I’m guessing you…you didn’t want anyone to…to…find out about you,” Cal stammered quietly. “I don’t know what coming to me to do…do…what…whatever is going to accomplish now.”

“You haven’t stopped digging up info on us yet, have you?” Doctor Holiday asked. “You’re still trying to find out more about that night. What we did do and what we didn’t.”

“Us? We?”

“Yes. Us. Every one of we who live in here. All the us-es that make Doctor Holiday who he is. Who we are. And you’re trying to figure us out.”

Cal shuddered to think at how much Doctor Holiday already knew. Because he was right. The search for answers hadn’t ended with the presentation to the executives of the Cyberwalk Casino, nor with interviews with the police.

There had been no break in the search for answers. Not for Cal.

Not since the moment Cal had seen the last video of Doctor Holiday, far from the Cyberwalk. A glimpse of the real man hidden under the illusion of the nondescript one, as Cal had examined another video frame by frame. The plain man had walked confidently and proudly out of the final site of Doctor Holiday’s Halloween mayhem, shortly before midnight.

But then the flash of Doctor Holiday in a single frame.

The hunched shoulders and drooped head of the imposing transhuman. A man weighted down with sadness, who had spent all the previous hours of the night proudly strutting as he sowed destruction.

That dichotomy—that revelation—had put Cal to wondering what Doctor Holiday had been doing the rest of the day, when the sun was up. A curiosity that led him to vague and sketchy reports of Doctor Holiday sightings in nearby Las Vegas. Of people strangely rescued throughout the city that day in ways they couldn’t explain. So much of it had been police reports that seemed insignificant even to the police, or deemed crank calls, or things that were noted in brief articles buried in newspapers. Rumors, loose talk and blog posts. Things it had taken Cal weeks to pull together and sort out amidst his day-to-day duties at Quicksilver Recovery.

All to realize that this year, Doctor Holiday had been two figures. A hero in the afternoon and a villain in the night. Light and darkness, played out like some overwrought, painfully obvious symbolism in a bad movie or play. Not to mention something so weirdly out of proportion. Dozens upon dozens helped or saved; then hundreds upon hundreds hurt or killed.

“You didn’t want anybody to know,” Cal said flatly. “And you don’t want anyone to know the full truth now. Are you going to hurt me? Or do something else to me? Stop me, I guess. Somehow. Right?”

“It’s true that I hadn’t planned for us to be discovered,” Doctor Holiday said. “But maybe the reason I’m here tonight is that I think you don’t know enough yet.”

Cal had no response, and Doctor Holiday cocked his head.

“I’m sorry,” the transhuman said. “I’ve never really operated this body directly for more than a few seconds at a time, and I don’t even usually speak directly to ourselves inside our head. I’m more a silent partner. Not a social chap. Perhaps I’m not doing this well. Perhaps I’m simply confusing you more.”

“You control all of the personalities, don’t you?”

“No, I direct them to their tasks,” Doctor Holiday answered. “We’re a very democratic society in here. We decided a long time ago to break into pieces and only come out for the holidays. Even if we don’t remember why. I just keep things on track toward our goal. Toward the coming crisis. The Others call me the Admin.”

“What is it you want me to know?” Cal asked.

“Pretty much what I’ve told you already. We are many. For the first time, last month, two minds shared the body the same holiday. They needed to know what it felt like to be good and evil at once. To realize other things, too, like how much it hurts to have the body’s powers change when one is awake and aware. There are other things the Others needed to learn, but I don’t want to share it all.”

“Why? Why did you do it on Halloween? Why do you do any of it?”

“Because this body and all of us in it need to be trained. Tempered. Prepared. Because when we were one, more than 11 years ago, he saw something. Knew it was coming, though I’m not sure he knew what it was. And he knew we needed to be broken to keep the world safe. But it is coming, Mr. Furtado, and it seemed right to me that at least one person should know enough of the truth to understand a little of who we are and why we do what we do, so maybe someone will cheer us on when the crisis finally arrives. So someone might comprehend what it was all for.”

Doctor Holiday paused.

“But I need to impress upon you, Mr. Furtado, how much you can’t tell anyone else until all of us Doctor Holidays come together to face what must be faced and do what must be done, both terrible and glorious. We may have to be brutal to be kind. Quite likely. If you tell anyone, even Jim or Eileen or your wife—if you share it with others—we will kill you and everyone you tell. All in its time, Mr. Furtado, but not before. Find out as much as you want. Pick up the pieces and put them together, but keep it to yourself until the crisis is here.”

“What crisis? When?” Cal asked, no longer sure if Doctor Holiday were a paranoid, deluded transhuman or one with crucial knowledge and purpose.

“We don’t know. But soon enough. Not so many years from now. Or maybe not even years. But I think years,” Doctor Holiday said. “In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one parting tidbit. One recommendation to benefit you and compensate for your silence.”

“What’s that?” Cal asked, suddenly not sure he really wanted to know.

“Business advice. Quicksilver should start forging some international strategic alliances. With similar companies in countries like Australia, Japan—really, anywhere there are a lot of people and lots of coastlines.”


“Because,” Doctor Holiday said as he covered up the display again to darken it, and turned to walk away, “when the crisis comes, it will come from the seas. There is going to be a lot to clean up after that. If anyone’s alive to care. The oceans will spill forth the end of humanity. And transhumanity. Unless we’re still around to stop it.”

For a moment, Cal wanted to cry out, “I don’t want any part of it” but realized he wasn’t included in the “we’re” that Doctor Holiday had mentioned. He had meant all of Them—every personality inside the body. No one else probably; certainly not Cal. Probably not even thinking about other transhumans.

Cal let a madman with too much power walk away, and resolved to do nothing to stop him; nothing to reveal him. Paying in the coin of other people’s lives and his own to peel away some of Doctor Holiday’s secrets for the world to see just wasn’t in him.

And even if the price wasn’t too dear for him to consider, he wasn’t certain he had the right to get in the man’s way. Or the ability. In his own way, Doctor Holiday was a force of nature, every bit as much as Hurricane Sandy.

Doctor Holiday was going to be a savior one day. Or maybe he was going to be the destroyer—the predicted coming crisis itself.

Either way, Cal realized, Doctor Holiday seemed destined to be good business again for Quicksilver Recovery somewhere down the line. Sometime all too soon.

I’m a bit later than I planned on for my latest Doctor Holiday story. Then again, one could argue it’s early. Passover and Easter are already pretty much done with this year, but the story below takes place in 2011, when both occurred later in the month. So, I’ll just say I’m technically early and pat myself on the back.

A rabbi stood up in the conference room, at the end of the table, standing before a trio of other rabbis, several Christians pastors—two Catholic and four others from various Protestant faiths—a nun, two Muslim imams, a Buddhist cleric and a Wiccan priestess.

“I appreciate you all coming to this meeting on such short notice,” said Abraham Sandler, more commonly known to his congregation as Rabbi Abe, by way of introduction. He was the current chairman of this inter-faith community group, dubbed Faith@Work, and he would rather have been anyplace else right now—preferably across an ocean. “I know several other of our members couldn’t be here but I’m sure between the—let’s see—15 of us, we can make sure they’re up to speed.”

He paused, and took a deep breath.

“Doctor Holiday has been spotted in New Judah,” he said heavily, and saw the uneasy stirrings around the table. “Earlier today, someone saw what was on his chest display, and it doesn’t bode well. Rather, it doesn’t bode well for certain of us, so I understand if a few of you might leave this meeting early since it’s not likely to affect you directly.”

With a pained look on his face, Father Daniel Calvecchio of St. Cecelia’s Catholic Church—who often did double-duty at these meetings sitting in for the bishop of the New Judah Diocese in addition to representing his own church—lifted his head and looked soberly into Abe’s eyes. “It’s April 17th today—is it Easter or Passover that has him coming here?”

Abe nodded. You usually are the quickest and sharpest of us in this group, he thought.

“Unfortunately, both,” Abe replied, and paused as the silence of most of those sitting around the table somehow deepened. “His display is split, with a Passover countdown on one side and a message of the upcoming Easter holiday on the other half. I’ve done some quick research; this has never happened before. In the decade since Doctor Holiday appeared, he’s ‘celebrated’ Easter six times and Passover three times but never in the same year—this tenth April seasonal showing is the only time both have factored into his activities. Also, unless he leaves the city before Passover begins, this appearance will give the city of New Judah the dubious distinction of being the only community he’s visited for a holiday more than once—and only five months after that Thanksgiving appearance, no less. I hope that doesn’t mean he’s setting up residence here.”

“Well, at least that was a relatively harmless visit in November,” noted Siraj Al-Qazwini, a relatively young imam who was heading up the new Islamic Society of New Judah mosque that had been constructed eight months earlier. It had replaced the original mosque that had been destroyed—and many of its members killed, as well—some two years earlier by a trio of white supremacist transhumans. “He spent a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner in a poor family’s home but the only person it seems he harmed was a drug dealer earlier in the day—unfortunate, of course, no great loss there. Perhaps this visit will be similarly peaceful.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure…” Daniel said with heavy resignation, and then just stopped, sighing and staring at some random point in the air.

Abe decided to take it up from there, since he knew what his Catholic friend and colleague was thinking, and it had great personal weight for the man.

“I think we need to remember what happened last year, Siraj,” Abe noted. “The Easter Slaughter. Mafia Catholics vs. Russian Jewish mob.”

The DeCavalcante crime family had been sparring for more than two years already with a mostly Jewish organized crime group with links to Russia over the rapidly dwindling piece of the pie that old-school mobsters even got to enjoy these days as they competed with street gangs and transhumans in the criminal sphere, Abe silently recalled. The DeCavalcantes had killed one of the Russian mob’s leaders, nicknamed Tsar Alexi, on his way to celebrate the Passover Seder with his family. Then the Russians responded by murdering the entire immediate family of Joey Colombo—the third-in-command of the DeCavalcante criminal operations—while the 10 of them were enjoying Easter dinner and Joey was finishing some business elsewhere with his boss Michael DeCavalcante. What followed was several weeks of vicious retaliations volleyed between them before things calmed down again.

One of those revenge attacks killed three of Father Calvecchio’s cousins, Abe recalled as he glanced at the still-brooding priest, and only one of them was even involved in mob activities.

In the aftermath, the only ones who benefitted were those criminal leaders not directly involved in the ruckus, most notably among them Irish mob boss Murphy Walsh.

“Passover begins in two days,” Abe said. “Easter is five days after that. Pretty much an entire week that the Judeo-Christian community might end up dealing with Doctor Holiday in some way, shape or form. Like I said, this doesn’t affect all of you, but most of us need to make some plans to see that this holy season doesn’t end up bloody—at least not beyond the symbolic blood involved for Jews and Christians.”

No one left the meeting early.

But when everyone was finished up, that sense of camaraderie did little to dull the dread that each took home with himself or herself.

* * *

Joey Colombo toweled himself off, steam still filling much of the master bathroom. He took his time about it; his emotions were still raw from several days now of memories from last year’s massacre flooding back. Thoughts of Anna and his kids and even his first grandson dead all around the Easter table when he got home.

He wasn’t without children this year, for what that was worth. He’d made an “honest woman” of his years-long mistress two months ago and both her daughter and her son, five and three, respectively, were of his loins—and now legally and publicly his children

In some ways, that made it all the harder for him to get trough this “anniversary.” They were all a reminder that he’d replaced his dead family with a backup one.

As he opened the door of his bathroom to enter the bedroom and greet his wife, he stopped cold, and thought his heart would stop as well. Looming there was Doctor Holiday, the left-hand side of his digital chest display saying “Passover is here!” and the other side running a countdown to Easter, now a little less than five days distant.

Joey could see Margie on the bed in the background, clutching the sheets to her scantily clad body and staring in his direction, face ashen and panicked.

“You may not be Jewish, Mr. Colombo,” Doctor Holiday said. “But I thought you would find it worth knowing that the Angel of Death passed over your house tonight, even without lamb’s blood on your door.”

Without another word or gesture, Doctor Holiday left.

Being a good Catholic boy from long back—always getting high marks in his religious classes—Joey knew about the Old Testament Exodus all too well. What had begun it and what had led to the Passover celebration among Jews. The killing of the first-born Egyptian children by the Angel of Death—the final plague visited upon Pharaoh and his people by God to force the release of the Jewish slaves.

When he said “passed over,” did he mean in the good way or that…?

Joey ran to his daughter’s bedroom—the eldest child—and then to his son’s.

Both of them were alive, but very confused about why he was waking them out of a sound slumber and hugging them so fiercely with tears in his eyes.

Though overwhelmed with relief, somewhere in the back of his mind Joey wondered, Who didn’t get passed over, and what does any of this have to do with me?

* * *

Twenty-seven minutes later, Doctor Holiday slipped from the shadows to block “The Fixer,” otherwise known as Murphy Walsh or the Emerald Godfather, as the man stepped out from one of his nightclubs and headed for his limo.

“A plague visits your home tonight,” Doctor Holiday intoned. “Partial payment for your sins.”

As quickly as he appeared, the transhuman retreated and Murphy was left perplexed.

But awareness—and with it panic—quickly replaced the confusion.


When he got there, Murphy found his wife alive and well, and the children all seemed fine. Until…

All his family alive except for 15-year-old Patrick, his only son. Dead in his bed with no signs of injury or trauma. As peaceful-looking as if he’d just drifted into dreams.

Murphy’s firstborn child.

The mob boss hadn’t shed a tear for any of the four lieutenants he’d lost in apparently unrelated incidents—one heart attack, one apparent accident, one apparent suicide and one apparent murder—in the past couple weeks, but he wept openly over this death.

And Doctor Holiday had said this was only partial payment, Murphy reminded himself.

* * *

On April 20th, Murphy saw the first zombie.

It wasn’t that he believed in the undead.

But it was hard to mistake a corpse for much of anything else, and they weren’t supposed to stand around, much less stumble across the street to stop on the sidewalk and stare at him with lifeless, oozing, muck-filled pits where eyes were supposed to be.

Murphy pulled his gun, but the zombie never approached him. It simply raised one arm and pointed at him accusingly.

It wasn’t until several hours later that Murphy realized the corpse wasn’t a stranger. The features would have been hard to place after numerous days of swelling and rot, not to mention having taken a the impact of a city bus before death, but the suit was very familiar.

One of his four recently deceased lieutenants: Kevin Clarke.

* * *

The next night, there were two zombies—Kevin again, looking a little the worse for wear, and the colleague who’d apparently committed suicide: Oliver Beckett, who hadn’t decomposed all that much around the face yet, probably in part because it hadn’t met the front end of a speeding vehicle like Kevin’s.

They were on the lawn of his backyard, and it had already taken everything Murphy had to write off the previous late-afternoon sighting of Kevin as some hallucination. After convincing himself it had all been a dream, now he had two dead mean trespassing.

They each raised an arm to point at him, and at that point, the Emerald Godfather lost it. He pulled his gun and fired two rounds into Kevin, one of them striking him perfectly in the center of the forehead.

The dead man continued to stand there, pointing, and it seemed like his undead comrade was laughing some silent laugh at Murphy.

Fuck you! You’re supposed to go down with a headshot! That’s what happens in the books and movies!

Murphy retreated back into his house, locking every window and door.

He considered calling up his men for some help. But then he wondered at the reality of all this. Transhuman heroes and villains and other such superpowered humans existed, sure. That was odd enough and society was still getting used to that after 40 years. But the walking dead? Genetic mutations were one thing, but rising from the grave was quite another.

Murphy realized he might very well be losing his mind, and the last thing he needed was to call someone over and discover that they didn’t see any zombies at all. He’d worked too hard to pull ahead of the Italians and those Russian Jews—he was known as The Fixer, after all; now wasn’t the time for anyone in his operation to see him losing it.

He’d hastily sent his wife and three surviving children away for a long trip to Ireland after the first zombie appeared, hoping he’d had things sorted out before they returned, and he was even more grateful that they weren’t here to see him losing his mind.

There was no sleep for Murphy that night, even after he looked down at one point to see the pair of zombies shuffling off toward his back gate and away from the house.

* * *

Kevin and Oliver brought along a third recruit with them the morning of April 22nd, as Murphy gazed out his kitchen window.

Seeing Joe O’Toole along with the other guys made Murphy choke on the smoke of his cigarette and gag up half his breakfast and coffee. When he finally achieve some sort of composure, Murphy slugged down half his cup of brew in one gulp to replace some of the emptied contents of his stomach, as well as to shock himself awake, he hoped. The scalding pain of coffee searing his throat centered him as well.

None of the zombies disappeared, though. They just stood by the side of his house. After a few minutes, they slowly approached the kitchen window, and the Emerald Godfather wondered if he needed to shed his Fixer nickname, because he had no idea how to game this situation or solve the predicament he was in, now that the murder victim among his recently deceased men had joined the other two.

When they got to the window, they pressed their faces against it.

No, Murphy thought, not their faces. Their mouths. They’re giving my window a long three-way oozing kiss from each of their mouths.

Then they backed away to point at him in silent accusation.

Murphy managed to keep his shit together for about a minute before he screamed and then backed into a corner to curl into a ball.

When he got up, they were gone, and he knew what tomorrow would bring, even if he didn’t know the time of the arrival. Heart attack victim Teddy Washbombe—the most recently deceased of his men—would join the other three.

* * *

Murphy wasn’t wrong, and the Emerald Godfather watched as the quartet danced an Irish folk jig to the musical accompaniment of crickets in the grass late at night on the 23rd in his backyard. Then the accusing fingers—four of them this time—followed by four jaunty salutes.

The Fixer had no idea whether the synchronized salute was a farewell gesture or one to signify: See you later.

* * *

No more of his men had died recently, so Murphy convinced himself that Easter Day would bring no more zombies to his doorstep. There was no fifth undead thing to add and, after all, hadn’t that been the pattern?

Except my son, but he doesn’t fit the pattern, right? And he’s in a locked crypt.

Or maybe I went a little crazy, he thought, and there were no dead men harassing me. I’ve worked out my problems now. No more seeing dead people. Just a day of missing my absent family on Easter.

He got through the day without hassle, including Easter Mass services with his parents and grandparents and then an early Easter dinner with them and a bunch of aunts, uncles and cousins later in the day. He checked out his clubs that night, and got in a couple blowjobs from two of his hottest ladies at the strip club before he returned home at 10:15 and got ready to call it a night.

Murphy hadn’t been in bed more than 10 minutes before he heard the doorbell ring.

He ignored the incessant sound for another 10 minutes.

Then the phone rang, and he picked it up hesitantly.

“Answer the door, or we come in to drag you out, Fixer,” said a gravelly voice. It didn’t sound like Kevin, Ted, Joe or Oliver. But then again, Murphy didn’t know what a zombie sounded like. Not a goddamn one of them should even have cell phones to call him with.

Mustering all his will, Murphy said solidly—even bravely—“I’ll be down in 15 minutes, when I’ve had a chance to get dressed and splash some water on my face. You fuckin’ try a goddamn thing and I’ll make you wish you’d never crawled outta your graves, any one of you.”

Once he was ready, and packing three pistols—not to mention a sawed-off shotgun inside his trench coat—the Emerald Godfather went to his front door. A quick look through the peephole showed Kevin standing across the street, pointing.

But this time, he wasn’t pointing at Murphy. He was pointing down the street.

Murphy stepped out, looking in the direction of the outstretched arm and saw nothing of interest. So he walked in that direction for a couple minutes until he saw Oliver standing on a corner, undead as could be, pointing down another street.

Murphy had the idea now, and kept walking until he saw Joe some 12 minutes later.

He headed in the direction of that zombie’s pointing finger and reached Teddy eight minutes after that. Murphy could see clearly what Ted was pointing at, and had no confusion about the ultimate destination.

It was the cemetery he had buried his son Patrick in a few days earlier.

* * *

Near the family crypt where Patrick had been laid to rest stood Doctor Holiday. Knowing how dangerous the transhuman was, Murphy resisted the urge to brandish any of his weapons. He simply met the tall man’s eyes and waited.

“Was it worth it to you, Fixer?” Doctor Holiday finally said, and in that gravelly tone Murphy recognized the voice of the caller earlier in the evening.

Not a zombie calling me after all, the mob boss thought with some small satisfaction.

“Was what worth it?” the Emerald Godfather asked.

“Arranging to make it look like the DeCavalcante Family had taken out Tsar Alexi, and then getting someone to plant the bright idea that it would be an excellent idea to act even more batshit violently crazy than Russian mobsters were already known for and kill all of Joey Colombo’s family while they ate Easter ham.”

“You aren’t really Doctor Holiday, are you?” Murphy said, his voice getting deeper and gaining strength as he looked at the cloth-bandaged face and the grim eyes behind the wrappings.

“What makes you think that?”

“You sound too sane. Too together. That ain’t like any Doctor Holiday I’ve heard about,” the Emerald Godfather responded.

“You haven’t been paying much attention, then, Fixer,” Doctor Holiday said. “Plenty of people who’ve encountered me have met very level-headed and relatively sane versions of me. I’ll ask again: Was it worth it?”

“Every goddamn hour, day, week and month spent planning it. Every million dollars extra it brought to me when I picked up the pieces after the Russian kikes and the dagos were done killing each other.”

“You killed a man’s family during one of their holiest days, Fixer,” Doctor Holiday. “Ten innocents—most of them women and children. That’s inexcusable.”

“Oh, and you killing my boy—who wasn’t even out of high school yet—is the height of honor?”

“He died painlessly in his sleep,” Doctor Holiday said, “and payback’s a bitch. But as a matter of scale, it doesn’t compare to what you did. Not by a longshot. You created a bloodbath that spanned weeks beyond the death of Colombo’s family.”

“And I’d do it again,” Murphy said, pulling out the shotgun. “Now I’m gonna fucking kill your unarmed ass. You ain’t Doctor Holiday, and those zombies are some kind of trick. Guys in costumes, I’ll bet. Fucking with me. Hope it was worth it to you because it’s the last trick you’re gonna pull.”

“Lazarus, come forth!” Doctor Holiday bellowed, and one stone wall of the crypt squealed, shrieked and quickly shattered, spraying the Emerald Godfather with a hail of stone chips. The mobster shouted in pain, dropped his gun and stumbled. “Or perhaps I should have yelled ‘Patrick come forth!’,” Doctor Holiday said.

As Murphy regained his bearings, he looked up to see the corpse of his son standing there, and then stepping slowly and jerkily toward him.

“Oh, I’m the real Doctor Holiday, Fixer. I guess it’s just that my subconscious decided to wake up Passover morning and set me up with a specially designed Murph-o-gram in religious holiday mode. My brain decided you needed some Tales from the Crypt-style vengeance. Complete with a weird Interfacer ability to animate corpses. I’m like the puppeteer to the dead, among a few other talents. The son has risen on the third day! Oh, look! Sonny boy wants a hug.”

Patrick’s dead arms were outstretched as he approached Murphy. The man let out a strangled gurgle, torn between grief and rage at the defilement of his son’s grave and the renewed pain of seeing him dead, and the feeling of utter terror that a corpse was reaching for him, animated by a madman.

Murphy pulled out one of the pistols he had brought, and unloaded it into his dead son. It didn’t stop the boy, nor did the next pistol’s worth of bullets. Patrick’s steady gait remained unchanged, while Murphy’s emotional pain grew as he watched the body torn small piece by small piece apart by his own hand, now firing with the last pistol.

Risen from the grave on Easter night, and I’m killing him all over again.

He dropped that empty weapon and scrabbled for the shotgun. When he found it, he fired it—and took off one of Patrick’s legs, ending the horrid advance.

By that time, though, the four dead men who’d guided him to the crypt came upon him from behind. They dragged him screaming into the crypt, as Patrick slowly crawled after them.

* * *

Dawn washed away the man whom Doctor Holiday had briefly been, and the tall, muscled body walked onward with surer steps than any of the corpses he had animated, but with barely any more awareness of his surroundings than even they had possessed.

Doctor Holiday walked from a crypt where six recently dead men remained still, one of them locked in the strangling embrace of his son.

Every one of them was smiling.

Except for Murphy.

And except for Doctor Holiday, marching onward, a display on his chest counting down the days until Memorial Day 2011.


Image of Doctor Holiday adapted from a drawing of the Unknown Soldier; character copyright DC Comics.

A few days late on my holiday tale, but here it is and featuring (of course) Doctor Holiday…

Pilgrim’s Progress

Beautiful and brown, plump and glistening, fragrant and juicy—the turkey sat steaming on the dingy table that dominated what little open space the kitchen of the apartment offered. Two adults and five children were tightly arrayed around it, each with their plates, half of them cracked or chipped. Each with their utensils, few of which matched. Each with their concerns at the man looming over their table with a two-tined fork and a dull butcher knife at the ready—a wanderer with a reputation as terrible as it was heroic.

A man whose face hid behind brown cloth bandages but whose chest declared his identity all too well, with the electronic screen he wore over his torso, with images of turkeys and Pilgrims and Native Americans and dancing letters that spelled out “Happy Thanksgiving” over and over again.

He’d insisted they all gather together at the table, even though any other Thanksgiving Day—or most meals they shared, for that matter—would have had some of them seated in the living room eating at the coffee table just to allow for more comfort. They were, after all, a family of seven in a two-bedroom apartment. But Doctor Holiday had said, with firm insistence, that family was important, and togetherness was the key to making it through.

The matriarch of this tightly knit clan, Rosie, couldn’t shake the feeling that they were gathered for a convenient slaughter, though so far all the transhuman had done was come bearing an uncooked turkey and an electric roasting pan, and then began preparing it, urging her to put away the deli-style turkey breast she had planned to heat up and offering her occasional advice about the sweet potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese and gravy that she was cooking—once the turkey was well enough along for the rest of the preparations to commence.

Her husband, Marty, had already devised in his head twice a dozen ways to attempt—and likely fail—to subdue or kill Doctor Holiday, or at least give his children and wife time to flee. And yet the most threatening thing the man had done thus far was pick up an old butcher knife that was going to be hard-pressed to cut the delicious-looking turkey and was more likely to simply yank off hunks of it.

The children ranged from blasé to nervous, though most of them had, after hours of Doctor Holiday telling stories, singing and joking with them, become used to him, like some years-unseen uncle come to visit. Blanca had already drawn the transhuman two pictures—one of a turkey in a field and one of Pilgrims and Natives cooking together—and Can had showed off his small but treasured collection of action figures at least three times. Only 14-year-old Gracie still maintained a mostly wary demeanor—and seemed to have her eyes on the door to their abode as often as she did the drawer where the steak knives lay.

Doctor Holiday began to cut the meat, and the knife slid through it with scalpel-like precision, thin and perfect slices falling into a quickly growing pile. Rosie wondered if the transhuman were using some kind of telekinesis, and couldn’t help but worry for a moment what such a power might look like flaying her children in front of her eyes. Marty considered the possibility that Doctor Holiday might have some metal-manipulation powers that had sharpened the knife, and his fears for their children’s flesh were much the same as his wife’s—fleeting but vivid.

But no blood was shed by this frightening man who had made an unannounced pilgrimage to their tiny home. Just the juices of the turkey dripping into the platter on which it sat. Doctor Holiday made a plate for each of them, and finally one for himself—the smallest helping of all—and sat cross-legged on the floor. It was a wholly ludicrous sight for a man of such imposing physique and dangerous reputation to be holding a small plate in his lap and sitting like a Kindergartner next to their table, but it largely broke the remaining tension. Only for Marty did the imagery make him a bit more anxious, fearing that it was some trick or that it would be the innocent harbinger to Doctor Holiday losing his shit and slaughtering them.

Still, he thought, it made things nicer to see his family finally at ease. Someone had to keep watch, though.

After several minutes, Doctor Holiday cleared his throat, and began to speak solemnly.

“You know, Thanksgiving has gotten a bad rap in recent years,” he said. “So many people focus on the bloodshed and destruction of the Indians, and make people feel guilty for celebrating this day, but that wasn’t how it started. It’s not what Thanksgiving is really about.”

He paused to put a spoonful of sugary, buttery sweet potato in his mouth and chewed contemplatively. For a moment, Gracie considered correcting him about his use of the term “Indian” but shut her mouth almost as soon as it had opened, thinking better of it.

“The native people weren’t persecuted at first,” he continued. “Oh, I’m not saying the Pilgrims were saints or that they didn’t do some bad things probably, but they were a small group fleeing to a new land. There was plenty of room for them. It’s when others followed and land needed to be stolen from the Native Americans who had occupied it for so long that the true evil came out.”

“We shouldn’t white-wash the past, but I think we should all remember not to make demons of all the white people and angels of all the red-skinned ones,” Doctor Holiday said. “The brown and tan ones shouldn’t be pigeonholed, either. We all have evil and good in us. Sometimes at the same time.”

You would know, wouldn’t you? Marty thought, and then wondered if he should pity, hate or fear the man in his small home. Perhaps all three.

“Look at your parents,” Doctor Holiday said, pointing to each in turn with his fork, one of its tines bent. “There are some who would call them leeches. Or make them out to be the bad guys because they’re on public assistance. It doesn’t matter that they both want jobs and are willing to work. They are seen as the enemy. There are liberals, too, who would call your dad evil for taking a hand or a belt to some of your asses, even though we all know you’ve deserved most of those whacks—though, I’m sure,  there are times his frustrations in life made him go too far.”

Marty swallowed hard, and wasn’t certain if it was a little bit of shame for those times he’d been a bit rough or if it was fear that Doctor Holiday was here to exact some overblown punishment on a father who sometimes spanked his children or smacked them on the back of their skulls with the heel of his palm.

“And you’ve all done bad things, haven’t you?” Doctor Holiday said. “But you’re mostly good people. I wish I could say the same of myself. I wish I could say the same of a lot of people I visit on the holidays.”

The transhuman cleared his plate and brought it to the sink, he rinsed it off, set it aside, and reached into a pocket, pulling out a huge roll of money. He placed it into Rosie’s hand.

“You have bills to pay, and Christmas is coming,” he said. “I think you know which comes first, but this will cover both for a while. Be thankful for your family, and be hopeful for work to carry you forward when that roll is long gone. Thanks for having me as your guest. But I have to go now. You can keep the roasting pan. I won’t need it. I doubt I’ll be having a personality suited for cooking when I’m wandering into someone’s life for Hanukkah or Christmas or whatever.”

He paused, and looked around as his hand hovered above their doorknob. “You know, I’ve punished people in houses that two dozen or more of these apartments would fit in who didn’t deserve to live in such splendor, much less own something so big,” his voice taking a sharp edge. “I’ve helped people with less than you have who deserve the sun and the moon.”

Rosie shivered and Marty tensed, but no attack came.

“Just be thankful and remember that you love each other. You won’t always be together. You won’t always all be alive. Enjoy and appreciate family, as it grows and when it doesn’t.”

He left them then, and Rosie looked at the roll of money for a long time, wondering where it had come from, before she handed it to Marty and gently urged the kids to eat before the food got cold.

* * *

Doctor Holiday opened the door of a larger apartment  in a neighboring building to check on the person he had visited earlier in the day—what had been the third stop on his pilgrimage.

The man was still dead, but that was to be expected. Entirely too much blood was pooled on the floor and splattering the walls, and Doctor Holiday sighed with regret.

The man was a dealer of death—meth, crack, heroin and skeez—but had he entered that business out of a callous disregard for human life and dignity or had it been what he thought was his only choice? Did he have children or parents he was helping to support, or was he a greedy bastard with no desire to do something positive with his life?

Too late to know now. Doctor Holiday would only retain his awareness for a little over another five hours, and he had no interest in wasting time finding out what he likely couldn’t learn even if he had five days. The man was dead, and there was nothing to be done about it. At least his money had gone to a good place.

Still, I was too harsh when I killed him. I should have made it quick with a snapped neck. No need to rip out his tongue and tear off a few body parts and let him bleed out.

After that, he slipped into a local department store—closed for the holiday—that had supplied him with the roasting pan, and he left some money and a note in the manager’s office to make up for that theft. He did the same at the grocery store where he had illicitly acquired the turkey.

He looked around at the neighborhood—one of the poorer and more desperate ones in New Judah—and sighed heavily, rubbing at his rumbling belly. He really hadn’t eaten much, but he hadn’t wanted to sour the rest of the holiday for Rosie and Marty and their kids with his lingering presence.

So he wandered, certain that another opportunity for him to be thankful would arise.

Perhaps I’ll even run into someone like Query or Mad Dash or Solstice and have the dinner companionship of some transhuman peers.

He walked for an hour or more, until he emerged into a better neighborhood and saw the Caped Cuisiner restaurant across the street. It was open today, as it was every day of the year, 24 hours a day, with its mix of plainly clad patrons and costumed ones.

How many of those in costume were actually transhuman? he wondered, and then spied no less than three Doctor Holidays inside, two of them eating together and the other one at the counter.

Thankful indeed. I know which of us is the real one, but it will still be nice to have some turkey and gravy and fixings with people I can blend in with, even if two of them are several inches too short to pass for me and one of them is potbellied.

He stepped inside to enjoy Thanksgiving with three of himself, and to have, for once, the conversations with himself outside his own head.


Image of Doctor Holiday adapted from a drawing of the Unknown Soldier; character copyright DC Comics.

All Hollows

Posted: November 1, 2011 in Single-run ("One off") Stories

Bugs me that I’m getting this Halloween-themed tale up more than a day-and-half later than I intended, but oh well…

All Hollows


Or something like it.

He had no idea when last he had felt that sensation filling his mind, but it had been a long time, certainly. Since the time before he lost his self and came to wander the United States as a man divided. A transhuman fractured. A shell filled with demons and angels; gentlemen and scoundrels.

Still, despite a sense of clarity, he didn’t know his name.

Oh, he knew the name others had given him, and it was all he had to hold to for a consistent identity.

Doctor Holiday.

So this clarity he felt now wasn’t knowledge. His old self had not been unearthed. But there was a peace inside him—a calm that he had probably only known before emerging as Doctor Holiday. He knew that many different “selves” lived in this brain, not a one of them so far the personality that had existed before Doctor Holiday was created by…



…government men. Real doctors—physicians and scientists.

He felt a surge of anger. A rush of betrayal. There was, inside him, a feeling that payback was due. But in his current personality, revenge wasn’t his goal. He wanted understanding. He had awoken with no other purpose than wondering who he was and seeking answers.

Taking stock of his surroundings, he realized he was in the back of a semi trailer—though there was no movement or bumping to suggest the vehicle was in motion. The digital display he usually carried—that covered his chest and announced the latest holiday that had awoken him—was several feet away. Image of ghosts, witches, monsters and candy scrolled across the display, along with the words Halloween is Here! and Happy All Hallows Eve!

He lifted his fingers to his face, and realized with a shock that the strips of cloth bandages that normally hid his visage were gone. He turned around completely, and saw them lying in a pile just behind him.

This realization was as startling as the silence in his mind. Normally, he knew, a personality awoke in full control of the body with some set of transhuman powers, but it was never alone inside its head. The others always whispered in the background. They were a multitude that made their presence quietly known, even if they had no influence. But they were all silent now.

He could sense the hundreds of places in this shared mind where they lived, but those other selves were purposely quiet or they slumbered. For all intents and purposes, those mental cells were empty.

So many hollow places, on All Hallows Eve.

* * *

Exiting the semi trailer nearly an hour ago hadn’t given him any more understanding of where he was or even who he was supposed to be right now. It was in an empty lot, with no cab attached to it. No corporate markings. No Department of Transportation number. No license plates. Nothing but what he had left there—all the normal trappings of Doctor Holiday.

His first instinct was that he needed to find a mirror.

With his face revealed, and no inhibition in place about looking upon it, he could gain his first clue to whom he had been before he became Doctor Holiday. It took a while, but he found a large gas station with an attached greasy spoon-style diner. No one gave him a second glance. Just another guy in jeans, long sleeve cotton shirt, and hiking boots.

With as casual a gait as he could manage, he headed for the bathroom.

There was a face in the mirrored glass before him, but no revelation about his name. He continued to stare, though, into his own eyes. Brown, like the little werewolf scampering across the digital chest display at one point when he was still in the trailer.


The display reminded him…of…that…

He could see himself—his hands, at least—in his mind. Working. Fiddling. Tinkering with circuits and wires. The display. He had built it himself. Not in the lab where Doctor Holiday was born but later, after his escape. Later, before his full awareness began to emerge only on holidays. There was a brief, shining time when he had been almost his original self. When he must have sensed what was coming. When he prepared by making and programming the chest display.

He probably hadn’t known his name then, either. He wondered, though, given that he was skilled and intelligent, whether he had guessed back then someone in the news media might think of the holiday connection to his appearances and think of the “Doc Holliday” of the Old West legends and combine the two in his unsolicited transhuman name. Probably not, as there was nothing of the digital display nor the wrappings that normally covered his face that hinted at Western history or folklore.

But now he realized that he had skills beyond the transhuman powers. He must have been an engineer, or programmer—perhaps a scientist of some sort.

There was no name to go with that memory, just as there was no name to go with his first view of his own face unbandaged. Such a plain face. A short mustache and beard. Brown to match his eyes, but with gray streaks here and there. Short hair, just a little curly, of a similar hue. A square jaw and broad forehead. Narrow lips. An everyman.

But in that memory of making the digital display, coming upon him anew, another image.

Of etching a number and a name inside the casing of the device.

His damaged mind had given him moments of clarity today, and freedom to explore himself.

On this day of Halloween, when so many people donned masks, he was finally unmasked.

To remain inconspicuous, he forced himself to go out and order some food, paying with the cash in his pocket from who-knew-where. He had eaten as quickly as he could without looking panicky or suspicious, and then he had walked briskly out of the diner. When he thought he was fully out of sight of any onlookers, he broke into a full run toward where the cargo trailer sat, wishing he had Speedster powers and enhanced stamina in this incarnation of Doctor Holiday.

* * *

He had gotten back to the trailer thoroughly winded, dehydrated and almost ready to vomit, wondering how he was going to open the casing of the digital display, and then feeling around in his pockets. In one of them was a Swiss army knife, with two different screwdriver tools.

At least I won’t have to give myself a heart attack running at full speed in circles trying to find a hardware store, he thought as he went to work.

When he got it open, he tipped it to where his memories said the etched characters were.

A name with a number. But not his name.

1031 Autumn Road.

An address.

A clue perhaps to why the many facets of his mind had unilaterally agreed that none of them would be let out except during a holiday.

Because it was beginning to look like he had lived on a street practically named after one—or knew someone who lived there.

He was going to visit 1031 Autumn Road on October 31—Happy Goddamn Halloween.

Doctor Holiday hoped like hell it was in a town nearby, because he figured chances were slim the legion of personalities that made up his mind were going to give him more than this one day of freedom to investigate who he was.

Those many hollow, quiet places would fill up again, and the voices would shout him down to silence and inaction.

Until the next holiday and the next personality and next set of powers.

* * *

He sprinted back to the gas station and diner in the hopes it would still be old-fashioned enough to have a phone booth outside with a phone book in it.

It wasn’t.

However, once he had bought some water and drank it down to keep from passing out, he did find a small bank of pay phones for the truckers who came through, probably—those who didn’t have cell phones or didn’t have national calling plans for them or perhaps who had let their batteries run down.

Or for the occasional oddball tourist who still used one.

Or the wayward transhuman from time to time, trying to figure out who he was.

Flipping through one of the phone books there, chained to a kiosk, the unmasked Doctor Holiday discovered that he wasn’t in the middle of nowhere as the landscape had thus far suggested—just on the ass end of a modest-sized city near a major interstate highway.

A quick call to 411 let him know there was an Autumn Road in that city. Based on the address of the random business on that street that the operator had given him, it was likely that the address 1031 existed somewhere along its length.

He picked up the phone again and called himself a cab.

* * *

Per his request, the taxi driver dropped him off at the very same business that had given him his reference-point address on Autumn Road after the 411 call. Doctor Holiday put on the sunglasses and hat he had purchased at the gas station while awaiting the cab, and looked around. Autumn road was a mix of commercial and residential structures, though mostly residential along this stretch. The business he was in front of was an accounting and law office. Nearby was a small convenience store and across the street a second-hand shop and an insurance agent. Everything else that he noticed for two blocks was apartment buildings, a couple small condo complexes and a half-dozen or so single-family homes.

As he moved cautiously but not too slowly, Doctor Holiday went to the side of the street with the even-numbered addresses, walked a bit, and discovered that 1031 was one of those single-family homes.



Not just any home. Even from across the streets and several doors down, he could feel the emotional warmth of it. This had been his home. Whether childhood home long ago or as an adult more recently, he couldn’t be certain. But there were memories in his head of children. Of a kind woman who was their mother. His wife and their children? His own mother and his sibling? Something else? There were no distinct faces he could attach to these memories any more than he could attach names—but he felt them.

There were no obvious signs that the house was being observed, but he remained leery. He might not remember who he was, or even the facility where his powers emerged, but he had access to every memory of every emergence of a Doctor Holiday personality. He remembered this body fleeing a secret government facility with the use of Speedster powers—a wild retreat so confused and panicky that he had no idea where he was running nor remembrance of the location he had fled. He remembered that it was a little over nine years ago, on Independence Day 2001, and that this was Halloween 2010 today.

Given how powerful he was as Doctor Holiday, regardless of what personality was in control, he imagined the government forces behind his creation would like him back. After nine years, they might not be watching his home as closely, but chances were they would keep tabs on it somehow, just in case some memory led him back here.

He wasn’t sure what he might do when he got to the front door, but that was his destination, once he was sure none of the cars on the street were occupied by potential government agents. Hands in his coat pockets, head lowered slightly, he proceeded to the front door.

The name on the mailbox was “Jansen.” It did not feel familiar to him. The small front lawn was recently mowed and raked, with only a scattering of fall leaves upon it. The planters outside the front windows were empty of any life—just soil in them. The curtains were closed at every window. No decorations for Halloween or even fall-themed ones. There were a couple hooks in the porch roof above the front deck, but nothing hanging from them. No wind chimes. No decorations.

No welcome mat. No decoration hanging from the nail in the front door, just above the old brass knocker.

A nervous flutter in his belly. A quick, panicky feeling of compression in his chest. And then he pressed the doorbell button.

The buzzing noise echoed back to him. He waited, and no one came to answer it. He pressed it again. Same result.

He made his way around the back of the house, and let himself into the tiny backyard through a chain-link fence gate. No lock; just a little metal latch. The leaves were thicker here, but still probably recently raked. There was no barbecue there—neither a hibachi nor a small Coleman grill nor a larger gas grill. No bikes. No sign of anyone using it or kids playing in the area. As with the window planters in front, a small garden existed back here, but nothing was growing there now but a few weak-looking weeds.

He looked at the back door. He didn’t want to bust the door in or break a window, even though he figured he could do it without attracting attention. Ideally, if the people who created him weren’t watching the house right now, he wanted to get in and out without leaving any sign of his presence.

Besides, I don’t even know what powers I have in this incarnation, he thought, or whether they’ll protect me well. So often, until they are needed, the mind won’t reveal them to the personality in charge.

He paused. Turned. Strode away from the back door and to the tiny, empty garden plot in one corner. He lifted up one of the bricks bordering it, and found a plastic film-wrapped key. He replaced the brick, unwrapped the key and stuffed the plastic wrap in one pocket.

This will never work. The locks will have been changed, by the government or the new owner.

He put the key into the deadbolt lock on the back door and turned it. It resisted for just long enough to give him a panicked paralytic feeling in his chest. Then a click. A door opened thanks to a random memory and an unchanged lock.

Nine years is a long enough time for a lock to be unchanged, but within believability, he thought. This wasn’t my childhood home. It was mine. There is probably no way a key would remain and a lock there to fit it from a place going back to my childhood. I’m at least 35 from what I see in the mirror, and perhaps in my mid-40s. The children and woman I feel in my few memories of this place were mine.

The question that haunted him, though, was whether they still lived here. And if they did, why did the name Jansen feel so unfamiliar? His wife’s maiden name, perhaps? Or was there a new man in her life? A new marriage?

Nine years is a long time, he reminded himself.

Entering the house, the feelings of familiarity and warmth he had sensed from outside wavered and threatened to vanish entirely. There was a wrongness here. He wandered for several minutes through the rooms wondering why it felt so wrong. It was more than just changes. It was more than just the fact things obviously were not exactly what they had been nine years ago—that was something he would have expected.

The problem was that so many things were the same.

He could feel it. Even without names in his mind to attach the wife and children of his past, and even without foreknowledge of how his home had once been decorated, he could feel that this place was preserved. It was the household equivalent of a fly caught in amber.

There were only three places that feeling didn’t reign. The kitchen had been used. It hadn’t changed much, but it had been used recently and semi-regularly. The living room seemed sterile and little-used, though, as did most of the bedrooms. The main bathroom had new toiletries and was clearly being used by someone. The dining room had likely not seen guests in years, though. One bedroom had slightly rumpled sheets and a recent novel on the bedside stand—though how he knew it was recent, Doctor Holiday didn’t know.

Someone stayed here, but didn’t live here.

His home was still under observation. And at least one observer stayed here at times. Maybe every day.

But not now.

Not right now, anyway.

For a moment, he considered fleeing. But he had come too far; this was perhaps his only chance to find out who he was. Then he wondered if it were wise to stay here too long, lying in wait for the person who watched his home from inside—after all, when Halloween ended so too would the awareness in this body, most likely. It would return to a more automaton-like state and wander until the next holiday; appear in some other place.

Unwilling to lose time in an internal debate, Doctor Holiday instead started opening desk drawers and closet doors. He began to look for clues to his identity, not knowing how much—or how little—time he had.

Over the next hour or so, he found photos of himself with people he had once apparently loved but now could not name. He found jewelry and clothing that were clearly part of his previous life, but had no context for them. He found books that he could remember the plots of, but didn’t know if he had ever enjoyed them.

But in all the searching, he found not one document or trace of evidence about his name, or the names of his family. No diplomas. No checkbooks. No driver’s licenses or passports. No bills. Nothing.

And then a click.

His heart seemed to stop. For a moment, he thought a gun had been cocked but then he realized it was the front door. A key turning. A lock releasing. A door opening.

He walked calmly toward that sound—a grim resolve filling him.

He stopped in the dining room, which at one end opened into the foyer of the house.

When the stranger entered through the front door, Doctor Holiday said, simply, “What are you doing in my house?”

The man who had entered, wearing simple slacks, sensible shoes, denim shirt, light jacket—and just the barest hint of a shoulder rig under one arm beneath that jacket—was startled for a moment, then returned to equilibrium.

“Well, it’s nice to see that with just under three months left on this assignment, my yearlong stint here is the one to finally produce results,” the man said.

“Where is my family?” Doctor Holiday demanded.

“I’m sure you have many questions, but I need…”

The man’s words were cut off when Doctor Holiday surged forward, wrapped one large hand around his throat, and slammed him against a wall.

“I don’t care what you need,” Doctor Holiday said, but his hand relaxed to let the stranger breathe. “What I need is what matters. I need to know who I am.”

“Let’s start with who I am. Special Agent Jansen. Nice to make your acquaintance. Seventh of a string of residents here since you left. One of your renters, I suppose, technically—though I doubt a dime of rent has made its way into any of your old bank accounts.”

“Awfully glib for a government agent,” Doctor Holiday said. “Are you trying to provoke me? Or del…”

Doctor Holiday’s mind expanded—filled the neighborhood—brought him back thoughts that couldn’t be read exactly, but gave him a sense of intent and numbers.

“How many? How many people are out there gathering, positioning and waiting to attack? How much time do I have?”

“Your time was up when you walked in here, Doctor Ke…Holiday. There are hidden cameras all over. I do actually spend most nights here, but today, I got my first visitor—you—and we had time to prepare while you were rooting around the place. You need to surrender. It’s over, Doctor Holiday.”

“You did a great job of acting surprised. All to buy a few extra seconds—all to let everyone get into position. All to let people watch and listen to me before they make a final move,” Doctor Holiday said. “Right?”

“It’s over, Doctor Holiday,” Agent Jansen repeated. “They’ll gas both of us, so I’m not going to be much of a hostage. You can calmly surrender and get a nice shot in the arm that will make you go night-night pleasantly, and then wake up in a safe new place, or you can go down choking and coughing, and still end up in a safe new place.”

“Just a couple problems with that plan, Agent Jansen,” Doctor Holiday responded.

“And what would those be?”

“First, you almost said my name before, and it wasn’t ‘Holiday,’ which tells me you know something about me. Second, we’re not even in the house anymore. And we haven’t been for the past five hours.”

* * *

With a suddenness that filled him with vertigo and almost made him retch, Agent Jansen’s world changed from a sedate but well-decorated dining room into a stark and mostly empty semi trailer.

“That was a long walk, and having to alter your perceptions the whole way didn’t help one bit,” Doctor Holiday said. “I finally had to give up and get a cab for the last several miles because my brain was about to skip town on me. I have a raging headache right now, and some anger issues. So I’ll need you to cooperate, for your own good as well as mine. Who am I?”

Agent Jansen remained silent.

“We’ve been in this trailer for nearly 40 minutes before I let you see reality again, Jansen. If your friends had any way to track you or any idea where I had gone, they’d be here already. What is my name?”

Agent Jansen shook his head slowly, but said nothing.

And then Jansen’s world changed again. A place of fire and blades, acid and thorns, ice and needles. It went on for hours, and then the world of the trailer returned.

“About…damn…time…you came to your senses…and…let me out of that,” Agent Jansen said, his words heavy and strained. “Now, let’s talk about your surrender, before anyone really gets hurt.”

“Jansen, what you just went through only took up about 10 seconds in real time. I can rinse and repeat until you lose your mind, and still have time before nightfall to catch a movie,” Doctor Holiday said. “What is my name? That’s where I want to start. Who am I?”

“I can’t…”

Doctor Holiday didn’t let him finish, plunging his mind instead into a place where a multitude of insects feasted on his flesh, inside and out, and it grew back as fast as it was consumed. It went on long enough that Agent Jansen figured his body had been eaten a dozen times over. The confines of the trailer returned as his reality, and he screamed at first when it did.

“This is making my head hurt even worse, Jansen,” Doctor Holiday noted. “Next time I can give you day’s worth of being peeled apart slowly with razor blades and vegetable peelers before you and your exposed under-flesh are rolled around in fields of salt. The worse I hurt, and the longer you make me wait, the more it sparks my imagination. I  don’t feel any pity for you. I sense you really like your work, and your work seems to involve fucking me over and making my family disappear.”

“Kelly!” Agent Jansen blurted out. “Robert Matthew Kelly, Ph.D. That’s who you are!”

“That’s a start. But it’s just a name and a degree. It’s not who I am. Start talking.”

“There’s nothing to say. That’s all I fucking know,” Agent Jansen said. “I know plenty about Doctor Holiday, but I know next to nothing about Dr. Kelly. I have your name; I’ve given it back to you. Let me go. Or better yet, give yourself up. You’re a menace to society.”

“I’d be less a menace if people like you hadn’t created me.”

“How do you know you weren’t a willing guinea pig, Kelly?”

Doctor Holiday—still processing the notion of being a Dr. Kelly—paused at that, then met Agent Jansen’s eyes. “Maybe so. Maybe not. But there’s still a house full of keepsakes and none of the family members that belong to them. I don’t think my wife and children simply left without the photo albums and the rest, Jansen. That’s not what people do. Tell me where they are! Tell me the rest of who I am!”

“I don’t know a damn…”

Agonies and nightmares. Pain and humiliation. Fear and loathing. Piled one upon the other for a day or more. At least in Jansen’s mind.

When the real world returned, Agent Jansen returned to it with a sudden onslaught of sobbing. It took a half hour for him to regain any kind of composure, and Doctor Holiday said, “The rest of my history, and the location of my family. Or I spend from now until the end of Halloween sending you through the equivalent of years of torment the likes of which no amount of torture porn could ever hope to match.”

“Dr. Kelly—or Doctor Holiday—whichever you like…better,” Agent Jansen panted, “I don’t…know anything more…than what I’ve told you.”

At the hard and angry glare from Doctor Holiday’s eyes, Agent Jansen cried out, “I swear! The only other thing I know is you came from something called the Genesis One Lab, and I don’t know fuck-all where it is. You can send me on a few more visits through hell in my mind and it won’t change anything. I don’t know anything more than what I’ve told you, and if my bosses find out you even know that much from me I’m screwed beyond all recognition. It won’t change anything if you fuck-start my mind some more—I just don’t know any more.”

“Thanks for the support, and the suggestion. I like it.”

And Doctor Holiday plunged Agent Jansen into several more hells. Over and over. Questioning Jansen after each visit.

No matter what he had said to Jansen, though, Doctor Holiday didn’t like doing it one bit.

It hurt. It made his head feel like it would explode at any moment.

But worse, it made him feel dirty. Everywhere. Inside and out. He felt filthy and depraved down to his very cellular structure.

But he kept doing it until he was sure Agent Jansen was telling the truth.

At the end of it all, Doctor Holiday still didn’t know anything more than his former name and the place of his rebirth as a genetic monster.

* * *

The bandages were once again wrapped around his head and the digital display reattached by its belts, straps and buckled to his upper torso. No doubt when he entered his upcoming fugue state, his body would have done all that by rote anyway, but it felt right to do it himself. The hollows in his mind would soon refill with voices, some to praise him for his treatment of Agent Jansen. Others to chastise him. Still others to say nothing.

He’d been given a day to find himself. He’d found more than he’d expected, even if it wasn’t all that he desired. He’d seen his home and his family—even if the latter was in photographs alone. He’d found his name, and perhaps another personality would follow that lead on another holiday.

In the process, though, he’d also found out how much a horror he was, and he wasn’t sure whether to blame himself, or the kind of people who were like Jansen and had created him.

At 11:58 p.m. Halloween night, Doctor Holiday began walking.

Away from from the trailer.

Away from the man whimpering inside it.

Away from the vestiges of his former home.

He walked away as Dr. Robert M. Kelly. And as Doctor Holiday. Wondering which was more real.

Two minutes later, he was nothing again. A body on autopilot awaiting the promise of Thanksgiving Day.

Something struck him in the head. He sensed it must have struck hard, but there was no blood. No bruising. Not even a scratch.

I’ve been awakened from my stupor—my fugue, the man realized. When I’m not aware, I’m a Tank. It’s hard to hurt me. But still I must awaken to the world around me to defend myself.

He turned his Ace-bandaged head to track the source of the missile. As he did, he saw a large rock nearby on the dry grass where he stood. No doubt it was the projectile. In the distance, a young man of perhaps 17 years.

“Get the fuck away from my town, you bastard!”

Doctor Holiday began to stride toward the teen.

The teen began to jog away.

Doctor Holiday began to run, and so did the youth.

He might have outrun the transhuman, if Doctor Holiday’s mind hadn’t begun to awaken to a power summoned up from his genes for this occasion. If he hadn’t reached out with powers to increase the local gravity suddenly around the fleeing teen. Unprepared for having his body suddenly feel three times heavier than normal, the youth tumbled to the ground. Once he reached the young man, Doctor Holiday returned the level of gravity to normal.

“Don’t ki…” the teen-ager began breathlessly.

“You shouldn’t do that,” Doctor Holiday interrupted with a mild and unthreatening voice—at least two dozen ways to hurt or slay his attacker arose in his mind in a split-second, but there was no threat here and there was no wickedness in his heart right now. “It’s not safe. Go home.”

As the young man fled, Doctor Holiday considered his situation. Memories of past deeds assailed him at once, but he had no particular feelings about any of them, whether heroic, villainous or somewhere in the gray between them. He only felt a gnawing hunger to know what his life was before his powers and his unpredictable nature became his defining characteristics.

He looked down at the digital display mounted to his torso, and saw that it was almost two full days until the 4th of July. He’d never been awakened from a fugue by a perceived threat so close to a holiday before. He was certain conscious thought would flee him as surely as had the high-schooler moments ago.

It did not.

Uncertain whether he would continue to have autonomy from now until the end of Independence Day—and even more uncertain whether one of his more active and committed personalities would emerge when the 4th dawned—Doctor Holiday went off in search of food and shelter.

* * *

“Dr. Hansen, I have some interesting data on Earnhardt and Cooper,” Dr. Jacob Weinbaum began as he walked into the office of his superior at the Genesis One lab. When there was no response, he looked up from the papers he had been reading as he walked in, and saw the bottle of scotch on the desk, and the man he had been addressing sipping at a tumbler glass half-full of the liquor.

“I’m half-drunk already—maybe more, Jacob, so you might as well call me Jack and skip the normal polite autocratic bullshit protocols, titles and whatnot,” Dr. Hansen muttered, taking another sip at his glass.

“Jesus, Jack,” Dr. Weinbaum said. “I know this is an annual pity party for you for the past 10…”


“Okay, nine years, Jack. But it isn’t even July 4th yet. You’re going to start getting drunk early now?”

“He escaped this facility at 2:17 a.m. on Independence Day 2001, Jake. That’s only, what? A little over five hours away? Might as well start now. I have a bad feeling about this year.”

Jacob sat down, and set the files down on Dr. Hansen’s table. There was no point going over the progress in the emergence process for any of their subjects tonight. Or tomorrow for that matter.

“So, do you get drunk every year like this because you’re depressed that we lost control of him and he went rogue and we can’t study him anymore,” Dr. Weinbaum asked, “or because we had such an overwhelming success in creating someone so powerful to begin with—and so dangerous?”

Dr. Hansen considered that for a moment, then downed the rest of his glass in one swallow and filled it almost to the brim before answering: “I wish I could tell you, Jacob. I really wish I could.”

* * *

Even so early in the morning, it was already hot in the Nevada desert. Reno could just barely be seen as a speck on the horizon, through the ripples of heat in the air that made it look like water was all around in little pockets.

The administrator and warden of the Riverton Psychiatric Prison, Kyle Raynes, stood in that hot, arid, sandy wasteland, one foot on the main road to the facility and one in the grit next to a small cactus, and surveyed the two huge holes in the wall of the main building and the spiderwebs of cracks in so many other walls. The piles of glistening glass shards on the ground from the windows, hardly any of which had survived the assault. He noted the absence of all but two vehicles in the parking lot where last night there had been at least three dozen.

Kyle wiggled a finger inside his left ear and frowned.

“Are you all right, sir?” asked the watch commander.

“Ringing in my ears is dying down, but it’s still annoying. At least I’m not stone deaf like the guards at the main gate and all the major checkpoints,” Kyle said. “What does Dr. Jiminez have to say about that?”

“She figures that most of them have permanent hearing loss that will put them on disability—a couple look to have damage that will mean total loss of hearing,” the commander answered. “About a dozen prisoners are in the same shape.”

“But not the worst prisoners, right?”

“No, sir. Not the worst ones. They’re loose, and the security videos lead us to believe they are totally unharmed. Seventy-three escapees total, 42 of them transhumans, and only about a half-dozen we have any leads on. Not sure what other tricks Doctor Holiday had besides that sonic scream and vibrating wave-blast shit, but he seems to have had some ability to cloak or transport the bulk of them. They’re free as birds and we have no clue where to begin looking.”

“I guess on the bright side, things will be a bit quieter around here with a 20% drop in our population and the most difficult prisoners no longer under our care,” Kyle said with a bitter sarcasm.

“I imagine so, sir. Happy fucking Independence Day, eh?”

“Yes, yes it is,” Kyle answered quietly. “For them at least. An Independence Day none of them will likely ever forget.”

She looked up the tall, burly man—a veritable giant compared to her tiny frame—with eyes wide, round and damp with terror. She didn’t know him. She didn’t know where she was. She wanted her Mommy and Daddy. She just wanted to give them the Valentine’s Day card she had made for them in her first-grade class today.

“I love you so very much,” the man told her in a voice that seemed too chirpy and high-pitched for someone so gruff looking and titanic of stature. Still, despite the voice’s lack of baritone character or rumbling bass notes, it was threatening. And it sounded especially wrong to her. Odd. Dangerous. Wicked.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West, maybe, but a man’s version.

“I wanna go home,” she whined.

He struck her across the shoulder, knocking her down. “No one loves you there. I love you,” he almost screeched. “I don’t want to mark your face. But I’m going to have to hurt you to make you understand, won’t I? To make you understand how much I love you. To make you love me back.”

* * *

Another man in another place shook his head, wrapped all around with thick brown cotton strips except for his eyes, nostrils and mouth. He tried to shake out the clinging toxic nature of the words he had just heard and the images he had seen but they wouldn’t come loose from his mind.

Was that happening now? Or did it happen already? Or is it still yet to happen?

He knew he had to find her, regardless. The big man might have done so much more to her already, or might not. But whatever level of harm had been done, Doctor Holiday would need to be there to clean up the mess. To punish.

But most of all, Doctor Holiday hoped he could be there to save. Last Valentine’s Day, he’d been anything but a hero. He’d done things to a woman not much less worse than what this little girl in his thoughts faced right now—or had faced already—or had yet to suffer. He’d been a ravager. Tonight, in the space between twilight and darkness, his faces of love and justice were mostly aligned. The darker faces were obscured. This year he could be a saint on Valentine’s Day. Or at least far from a sinner.

He felt he was getting closer to the girl; the visions were becoming clearer and clearer. Proximity to her would be the most logical explanation for that.

Doctor Holiday saw a street thug, who turned as his peripheral vision caught the play of light from the digital display on Doctor Holiday’s chest, festively declaring that Valentine’s Day was here with a flourish of exploding hearts and kissing lips and spinning chocolate boxes and blooming roses.

By the time the street-tough could even make sense of who it was he was dealing with, Doctor Holiday had him by his collar and lifted him off the ground.

The thug started talking immediately. He need no prodding to answer Doctor Holiday’s questions. He spilled responses out; he even gave answers the transhuman didn’t need and didn’t want. But he didn’t know anything about the girl.

Doctor Holiday had been through 23 guys like this already in quick succession, with none of them being any help but all of them unwilling to be silent when he questioned them—unwilling to challenge him. His reputation preceded him.

A pity I can’t always be a hero, because no one dares to anger Doctor Holiday unless they’re as insane as I am.

As it happened, though, the two-dozenth time was the charm.

* * *

Just a little while earlier, she had been holding the construction-paper heart of fuschia with red lace around the edges and little plastic gems glued to it and the “I Love Mom and Dad” scrawled in her own hand with purple marker and her own name signed in white crayon.

She had been walking to the bus when the ground fell away from her and she was whisked away in sweaty arms with a crone-like voice stridently telling her he would make everything all right.

The card she had made fell the ground when he took her.

She could just barely see it fluttering away on the wind as he carried her away against her will.

Fluttering away like all her hopes.

* * *

The vision hit Doctor Holiday hard. He was close. He must be. But this vision was out of sequence. Did that mean he was looking for the girl and her abductor too soon? Had she not been snatched yet? Or was he grabbing random thoughts from her mind?

It was all so confusing to him, all the more so because he had to get used to a whole new palette every time a holiday awakened his mind—or a threat to him did. Did he have clairvoyance? Telepathy? Both? Right now, he’d rather have super-senses to track her scent and Speedster powers to move him along more rapidly toward her, but they seemed not to be in his list of options.

So many people thought of Doctor Holiday almost as if he were a god. He appeared, and seemingly had whatever power he needed. He’d never been captured, hindered or substantially harmed. No one could track him. No one could stop him.

Hell, it makes me feel like a god sometimes, and even more so the darker faces inside me, who relish that sensation. But I’m not a god. On the other hand, I am more than just a man. Or even more than just a transhuman.

“Please…” came a ragged voice.

Doctor Holiday realized he had drifted in mid-interrogation of this 24th street-tough he held in his iron grip. Even when he didn’t have Brute powers, he was stronger than most people; whether or not the man knew who held him he couldn’t tell—he’d temporarily stashed his chest display somewhere safe to travel lighter.

“You said they went west down Butterwood,” Doctor Holiday said. “How far?”

“I don’t know. I was doin’ business but I think they got as far as the Citibank. Maybe the wetback store.”

“You mean the bodega? I don’t need racism confusing my information,” Doctor Holiday said with a warning note.

“Yeah, the bodega. The Mexican market. The Hispanic store. Please don’t fuckin’ kill me!”

Doctor Holiday tossed him aside, and went to find someone closer to the information he needed.

* * *

The girl’s clothes were in a ragged heap. She hurt. She was beyond crying or screaming. He’d touched…he’d…Momma! Her heart was slipping into a dark pit and her mind into a sea of agony and fear. She was lost. She wanted her…she wanted…she finally found her voice, but could only sob raggedly. Screams were beyond the power of her throat to form, though they echoed loudly inside her skull.

* * *

Doctor Holiday shook off the vision, feeling a panicky surge in his chest—at the thought of his chest, he realized the display was there again but could not recall having retrieved or why he would have wasted the time to do so. He cursed himself silently.

Too late too late too late too late.

He snatched up a woman by the bodega whom he knew possessed a substantial amount of crack cocaine and crystal meth, though he wasn’t sure how he knew she was holding.

“Did you see a man carrying a girl? Where did they go? Tell me or I will shove your crack rocks into your sinuses and break all your limbs.”

He felt unease making the threats—it reminded him too much of last Valentine’s Day and another woman. But there was no time to waste, and this woman was no innocent by any measure. He was certain of that.

“They went into the closed-up jewelry store over there Mister Holiday! I swear! I don’t now ‘im and I don’t have anything to do with ‘im.”

“But you watched him drag a girl into that place,” Doctor Holiday said as he dropped her roughly, adding loudly as he walked away: “If you have children, give them up. If you don’t, never have them. You’ll destroy them.”

Now that he had a location, Doctor Holiday could feel the truth of it. He could hear the terror in the girl’s mind and follow it as surely as any piercing scream through crisp winter air. He moved quickly and he tore the boards away from the door and front window, even without Brute-level strength. His fingers bled a bit but it felt like the wood was being ripped away almost before he even yanked at it. He was frantic and rough—there was no time to figure out exactly how the man had entered or where. Demolition was needed her, and demolition he performed with rapid efficiency.

He barged into the tiny, abandoned storefront and saw the scene by the light of an electric lantern. The girl, just as he had seen in his mind—just as frightened as she had been then, but made all the more heartbreaking by the proximity to her reality as well as his connection to her mind and his knowledge of what the man who held her was willing to do to her.

She was holding her shoulder, but her clothes were intact.

He struck her down, but he hadn’t gotten to the rest. Not yet. I saw the past, the present, and the future. She can be saved, not simply salvaged.

Doctor Holiday snatched up the startled man without hesitation and regarded him in the dim glow of the lantern, with the pinks and reds and purples of the display on his chest reflecting off the man’s skin and giving him a sickly pallor.

Sick, yes…but knowing how wrong what he does is to the world; how wrong it is to his victims. Sick, but not a victim himself. He knows. He’s culpable.

Rage surged inside Doctor Holiday and he almost crushed the man’s windpipe. Almost tossed him against the wall. Almost got ready to beat him to a bloody pulp and beyond that. Voices were crying for punishment and pain inside him. Retribution and repayment. Justice and…


Doctor Holiday was a hero tonight. He intended to remain so until Valentine’s Day was over, and perhaps a bit beyond it if he could, even if he took no heroic actions but simply held them dear for a while yet into his travels.

“You claim you love her,” Doctor Holiday snarled. “You claim you have her heart in mind. I have your heart in mind, too, you sick freak.”

The same telekinesis that had helped him wrest away the wood now took hold of the pumping organ in the abductor’s chest. Behind the breastbone the heart struggled and sputtered against a crushing force—an invisible fist.

“This is what a heart attack feels like,” Doctor Holiday said, with an almost clinical tone now. Professional. Calm. He released the pressure. “You’ll probably know what it feels like many more times in the future, if you live long enough in prison.”

Doctor Holiday reached for another power—Necro abilities that had been awaiting this moment—and he undermined the physiology of the muscle tissues of the heart and degraded the arteries and veins that connected to it. He ravaged the man’s cardiovascular system, secure in the knowledge the abuser had a nigh-incurable heart condition now. But in prison, no one was going to work that hard to fix it with major coronary bypass surgeries, and no transplant would ever be in his future.

This large and powerful man, who would have been Doctor Holiday’s physical equal if not for the transhuman powers arrayed against him, would be weak and sickly in prison.

“Even hardened cons hate men like you—most of them do,” Doctor Holiday noted. “And you won’t be able to fight them off. Your life will be short and brutal, I think. Justice served. And served in the way it should be intended. I apprehend. Others will judge. Others will serve you the punishment you deserve.”

When Doctor Holiday picked up the girl in one arm and lifted her to his hip, she surged up and hugged his neck hard, crying softly into his neck. The tears broke his heart but her tight squeezing of his neck was nothing but gratitude and love. He wondered how long since he’d felt something that pure, or if he ever had. Wondered if he had a child of his own somewhere who had hugged his neck once and missed doing so.

Doctor Holiday lifted the big man easily with his other arm, with the telekinetic powers to aid him. Then he broke the embrace of the girl just long enough to give her a brief warm kiss on her forehead, and walked toward her home, miles away—never doubting for a moment that his mind knew the path and would guide his feet true.

* * *

Three police cruisers were at the girl’s home, so the play of pink, red and purple lights from Doctor Holiday’s chest-mounted digital marquee were joined by flashes of darker red, as well as blue and white.

The police and parents were both aghast at Doctor Holiday’s approach, until the girl turned her head and smiled at them. Everyone still eyed him warily, but more gazes were now locked on the limp man in his custody, whom he simply dropped to the grass.

Doctor Holiday set the girl down gently on the lawn and said, “Be safe.”

As she turned to go to her parents, he suddenly said, “Wait!”

She turned, startled. Her eyes looked worried for a moment, as he reached inside his coat.

His hand returned with the Valentine’s Day card she had created. “I found this,” he said, and pressed the slightly battered but largely unmarred piece of handcrafted art into her hands. She smiled and ran to her parents, giving them the gift of the card and more than that, Doctor Holiday thought: The gift of her safe return.

Doctor Holiday endured a few minutes of nervous questioning by the police, and then 10 minutes later, tired of it and simply walked away without a word. He wasn’t needed here. The police didn’t try to stop him.

He glanced back once, to see the girl looking through the window, away from the police officer speaking with her inside and toward him instead.

She smiled, and he smiled back.

It was a happy day this year.

He prayed it would be a happy Valentine’s Day next year as well.

He walked for a long time, hours until midnight struck, and then his digital display began to count down to Easter Day—and he was Doctor Holiday no longer but simply a wanderer without a history and a vagrant without a name.

No memory of having saved a girl.

No recollection of giving her back what she had lost.

No memory of the warm arms embracing his neck.


Posted: December 31, 2010 in Single-run ("One off") Stories

Raucous laughter, mixing a shrill feminine giggle, a bass-laden masculine guffaw, a gender-neutral chuckle and a bellowing laugh. All reverberated within the tight confines of a four-door sedan. There was a fifth person in the car, but he wasn’t laughing, passed out in the back as he was and sandwiched between the giggler and the guffawer.

Along with the cacophony of laughs about every topic that arose and about nothing at all hovered the scent of alcohol—a perfume of intoxication that became something thicker and more sour the longer they remained in the car.

Not that they noticed.

It had been a long night of partying to ring in the new year and keep drinking well beyond its beginnings. The driver was the most sober of the lot, which merely amounted to being able to almost walk a straight line.

He was sweating a bit with nervousness. There had been one close call with a pedestrian already, and he knew he shouldn’t be driving. But somehow, his brain couldn’t wrap around the concept of simply stopping the car. He had committed to driving, and by God, he would get them all home—or to somebody’s home, anyway. He wasn’t so far gone that he thought it wise to make five stops. Perhaps just one stop—at the nearest apartment, and then declare that everyone sleep it off there.

Yes, that would be the right thing to do, he thought as his alcohol-sodden brain rationalized his folly as wisdom and as he tried to remain in his lane and keep a blurry watch out for police cars.

As he cautiously rounded a corner in a quiet part of the city, he didn’t expect to see a man wearing an old-fashioned tuxedo with tails—complete with black top hat—standing in the middle of the road, several dozens of meters away. Nor did he expect to see a display across the man’s chest, digitally expressing the year 2010 with the words “New Year’s Day!” in scintillating colors and images of fireworks and champagne bottles spewing all around those words.

Weird. Digital display…

Oh shit! the driver thought, knowing of only one person who wore such a thing on the front of his torso, declaring the arrival of a holiday—and whose face was bandaged all around.

His foot was already on the brake—not too fast; not too slow. He didn’t dare hit Doctor Holiday, and he didn’t dare get any closer than he had to. It was time to turn around, as there was no telling if the transhuman would be in a heroic mood, a villainous one or some strange mash-up of both.

And then he saw Doctor Holiday reach down for something and pick it up. Then cock back his arm with something long and heavy in it—a pipe or pole or something.

The driver realized he would never stop and turn around in time—and his only other option was to speed up.

Not to run over the man—that was too risky. He might survive. He might be pissed if he did. He might still be in a condition to do something about it. No, he’d speed up and swerve around Doctor Holiday.

His foot no sooner moved to follow his commands and press the accelerator to the floor than Doctor Holiday let his missile fly.

The passengers had one by one begun to sense something was wrong, and one of them screamed—a man, in fact—as the long PVC pipe lanced through the front windshield, sending out a spiderweb of cracks radiating from the hole in the glass even as it slid with high and deadly velocity through the head of the man sitting next to the driver, and far enough through it and into the backseat to knock the passenger behind him in the back seat senseless.

Now everyone was screaming, including the driver, and the car was slowing as his fear left his mind far short of recalling just how to drive. Then everyone else was screaming for him to get them out of here, and his brain reignited. He pressed his foot down hard. But there was no time for the car to move far before another missile penetrated the front windshield—this time a shorter one—perhaps a lead pipe. It crushed the skull of the passed-out passenger who still hadn’t awakened  even with the chaos of screams and crying all around him in the car.

The driver gave up all rational thought and all notions of driving away—or over Doctor Holiday’s body for that matter. He simply opened the driver side door and fled. As he ran, he heard screams and impacts and shattering glass and then, with a jarring suddenness: silence.

He stumbled, but did not fall. He realized, though, that he was running toward a dead end, and changed directions.

The driver didn’t get far, though, before he was yanked off his feet.

He stared at the face of his antagonist—even though he could read nothing there on that Ace-bandage-wrapped head but the glare in the eyes and what seemed to be a sneer on the lips.

Doctor Holiday hauled him like an unruly child back to the car, and thrust his face through the non-existent windshield to behold the carnage. Blood everywhere. Death inside. The scent of blood and piss and alcohol mixed together.

Still gripped hard by the back of his neck, the driver retched into the front seat and began to wail and cry.

“Irresponsible,” Doctor Holiday hissed. “Driving under the influence. You could have gotten them all killed. You could have killed someone else. Shameful.”

“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” the driver screeched. “Don’t kill me!”

“Kill you? How would you learn your lesson? You might have killed them all, but don’t worry. I’ve saved you the trouble.”

Doctor Holiday re-opened the driver’s side door and set the man gently into the driver’s seat.

“Drive safely,” Doctor Holiday said over his shoulder as he walked away slowly. He began to whistle Auld Lang Syne, then stopped suddenly, and turned around, smiling brightly as his display reset, displaying 44 Days Until Valentine’s Day. “And have a great 2010.”

The man walked down Chesterson Road, mere inches from the narrow, dusty two-lane roadway itself, with a steady pace and unwavering steps through the short, dry grass covered here and there in a thin dusting of snow.

It was a pair of kids who first took note of the six-foot-four traveler—his shoulders hunched just a bit and his face unreadable behind a full-head “mask” of Ace bandages. The long strips of material were wrapped around almost every part of his head so that only his eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears showed through.

That wouldn’t have been enough to identify him—several costumed transhumans wore similar attire on their heads, inspired by DC Comics’ Unknown Soldier and Negative Man—but there was also the large-character digital display device affixed to his torso, on a body which was clad in otherwise unremarkable and standard-issue clothing, albeit wrinkled and stained.

It read, simply: 2 days, 6 hours and 31 minutes ’til Christmas

When it clicked down to 2 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes, the two pre-teens, who were very well-versed in trivia about the most notable transhumans in the nation, broke and ran to tell their parents.

Doctor Holiday was headed toward their town.

* * *

Word spread quickly through the town of Travis, and by the time the transhuman pedestrian had made it to Main Street, there was a group six adults and one junior from the nearby high school who competed in football and wrestling who were shadowing him.

None of them carried anything that remotely looked like a weapon. At least two of the adults had heard the warning in the news—that no one should ever make a provocative move. It was only on a holiday that this transhuman would use his powers.

Unless he felt threatened.

When that happened, God help the person who had made the provocative move.

* * *

Within 20 minutes, the group of people shadowing Doctor Holiday had grown to a dozen people. They followed at what they thought was likely a safe distance, and kept up with him. They were tense at first, but at a certain point, when they all realized they were well past the middle of town, they actually became less anxiety-ridden the longer he walked.

Because now he seemed to be headed out of town.

They would be spared the risks of him choosing to stay here. The risks of “hosting” a transhuman who had more personalities than anyone had yet been able to keep track of and whose demeanor could shift from heroic to villainous and back again within a span of minutes some days.

Mostly on the holidays, though.

When he reached the edge of town and continued walking down the narrow highway, there were audible sighs of relief from many in the small crowd of followers.

A few of them, though, raced back to town at a dead run to make some phone calls.

To warn the residents of the town of Marcy that Doctor Holiday was headed their way.

* * *

The people of Marcy waited anxiously for hours. When Doctor Holiday didn’t show up for six hours—and it was clearly no more than a couple hour’s walk from Travis even if he slowed up a lot or took a long break to rest—they began to feel hope.

When they went to bed with no sign of him, everyone was calm again.

But the next afternoon, Ralph Stanley and a couple of guys he played poker with every Friday night saw an unfamiliar car drive into town, and park in front of Dolly’s store, the Pharm & Shop. A tall man got out, his face swaddled in brown bandage strips and the display on his chest still ticking down the minutes until Christmas.

It read: 1 day, 9 hours and 13 minutes ’til Christmas.

Doctor Holiday ignored the three men completely. He stopped to look up at the lampposts and to peer at the store fronts, his gaze most intent on the Christmas decorations. Then he walked slowly away from the car, four storefronts away, and sat down in front of the door of Walt Smith’s old accounting and insurance office—closed up now since his heart attack almost a year earlier.

The town’s unwelcome visitor settled his chin against his chest, closed his eyes and dozed.

Ralph spread the word quickly, and everyone steered well clear of that portion of sidewalk, but many gathered in little knots of humanity here and there to watch while two sheriff’s deputies carefully looked over the car Doctor Holiday had inexplicably driven to their town in after being spotted walking out of Travis before.

One of those deputies kept an eye on the seemingly napping transhuman, in case their efforts might seem to anger him. He showed no response to their presence and presented no complaint.

They ran the vehicle identification number through their office, as there were no license plates on the car and no registration inside it.

The vehicle had no current owner, and had last been registered in the next county over some five years earlier to a woman who hadn’t lived in the state for the last two years.

By the time all this was figured out, and the news had filtered to the gathered onlookers for them to pass along to family, friends and neighbors later,  the display on Doctor Holiday’s chest told them all that it was 1 day, 5 hours and 49 minutes until Christmas.

* * *

Doctor Holiday got up once that evening after his arrival to walk into the diner nearby. He ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and a bottle of Pepsi in a voice that sounded like it hadn’t been used in weeks. The teen-aged girl at the register got him the sandwich, but was afraid to ring him up or ask for money.

When she handed him the sandwich and drink, he didn’t leave. After several tense seconds, his eyes moved toward the cash register and then back to her face.

Fingers shaking, she punched the buttons and said in a tremulous voice, “That’s $3.75.”

Doctor Holiday slowly reached into a pocket, took out a five-dollar bill, and set it down on the counter.

He walked out without waiting for change, ate his sandwich and drank his beverage while standing and admiring the Christmas decorations all around, and then sat down for another nap.

A single deputy stood across the street, watching.

His orders were to do nothing unless he absolutely had to.

He hoped desperately that nothing would happen, because he wasn’t sure what extreme Doctor Holiday would have to go to that would give him the courage to reach for his gun.

* * *

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Doctor Holiday ordered an omelet and a coffee at the diner with a voice that sounded less haggard and scratchy, and left another five without getting change. He ate while standing at the counter. Everyone who could see it looked at his digital display, which told them that only a little more than 15 hours remained until midnight came and Christmas would officially begin.

When he had cleaned his plate and emptied his cup, he returned to the empty storefront that had become his home here in town.

Several men in town had already agreed to stand vigil tonight with the deputy on duty to see what would happen, and they were already bringing folding chairs, blankets and space heaters to set up in their appointed spot.

In the afternoon, Doctor Holiday ordered an egg salad sandwich and a pastrami on rye with swiss cheese from the diner, asking for a to-go bag and a two-liter of pink lemonade to wash it down. He left a ten-dollar bill. This time, he waited for change, and left a couple dollars on the counter after he got it.

His display read: 10 hours and 16 minutes ’til Christmas.

Some of the men who would stand watch with Deputy Mitchell tonight began to arrive with coolers. One came with a large satchel loaded with rifles and shotguns, and the hope that they wouldn’t need to be brandished, much less used.

None of the men had any more desire than the deputy to draw weapons, and each doubted he could unless someone he loved was being threatened by the man.

10 hours and 8 minutes remained.

* * *

Midnight approached, and what Christmas Eve lacked for snow this year it more than made up for in cold. The men watched, fascinated and fearful, as the digital display read: 1 minute ’til Christmas. Then not only were the days and hours gone but also the minutes, as time ticked down from 59 seconds.

When it read :00 seconds ’til Christmas, and then the display suddenly flared with festive red, green and white letters and graphics that declared it to be Christmas, there was no alarm from the device. No sound at all.

Nothing but the soft scratch of Doctor Holiday’s boots on the sidewalk as his eyes opened from his latest nap and he stood slowly, then stretched and then turned toward the empty store before which he had squatted for most of his time in town.

He opened the door, which to everyone’s knowledge had been locked, and stepped inside. In the darkness, the onlookers could see vague movement, but the dim illumination of his chest display gave them little help, as he removed it and set it display-side-down on the floor. After several minutes, he exited the store with the display back on his chest, but now he was wearing a Santa Claus suit, complete with shiny black boots and black gloves, a large sack slung over his shoulder, a Santa hat on his Ace-bandaged head and a long, fake white beard.

He said “Ho, ho, ho!” in a strong, bellowing voice, and sat down again.

One of the men muttered, “Where the hell did he get the costume?”

Someone else shushed him, as if fearful that even talking about Doctor Holiday’s actions or speculating about him might incur his wrath.

No one said “Merry Christmas.” No one said much of anything.

They watched and waited.

* * *

Dawn broke, and 40 minutes after it did, Doctor Holiday stood up and began to walk.

In his full Santa attire, he strode quickly down the main street of the town, which was called Elm Avenue. He turned right at Ulster Street and walked a half-mile to Bacon Avenue, where he turned left. Then another several blocks and another left, this time at Wallace Street.

He strode up to 9 Wallace Street, a modest single-family home, and stopped at the end of the front walk.

“Merry Christmas to all,” bellowed Doctor Holiday, “except to Daniel Gavin James! Gambler! Thief! Liar! Adulterer! Wife beater! Child molester! Rapist of his own kin!”

The lights went on in the house, and curtains in two windows were pulled slightly aside, furtively.

The men who had stood vigil and followed the transhuman here watched Doctor Holiday, as did that one reluctant sheriff’s deputy named Dennis Mitchell.

No one responded from the house. Doctor Holiday set down his Santa sack at the edge of the street and walked up to the porch. He place one hand on each railing on either side of the steps leading up the front porch, and gripped hard.

The men watching from outside, along with the curious and slowly gathering neighbors, weren’t sure what to expect. Doctor Holiday rarely displayed the same set of powers on any holiday any more than he displayed the same personality. Inside the house, a family watched and listened, one of them more fearful than the rest, and angry too—while the others felt a mix of hope, dread and pity.

Danny James, husband and father of three, had been named and marked.

No one was certain if this was common with Doctor Holiday, but neither did they doubt any accusation that the transhuman had hurled. Few liked Danny, and most would freely admit he was a drunk and a lout, even if they wouldn’t have guessed at half of the crimes of which he had just been accused.

After several minutes of Doctor Holiday standing there, gripping the railings, a few people spied smoke. The wood of the porch began to blacken, then catch fire. Within moments, the porch was engulfed in flame, though nothing touched Doctor Holiday. The fire spread with swift ferocity to the walls and nearly the entire house was burning in less than two minutes. Someone nudged the deputy hard, and gave him a questioning look. He seemed dazed at first, then took out his gun.

“Doctor Holiday, I am Deputy Mitchell and I ask you to stand aside so that I can take Mr. James into custody!” He pointedly and purposely left out any mention of arson or endangering innocents.

Doctor Holiday didn’t turn or in any other way acknowledge the deputy. And when the lawman raised his pistol, he dropped it just as fast with a sharp cry, his hand blistered and the gun falling into the snow to send up a burst of steam as it melted the scant bit of white on the lawn.

The house was a conflagration, and then the family inside began to flee it. Some went out windows while most went out the back door.

Danny James no sooner had left the house then he began to run toward Bacon Avenue.

He came to a sudden halt and fell as if yanked to the ground. Something unseen seemed to drag him back toward his burning home. Every so often, he would win his freedom from the invisible whatever that had taken hold of him, only to be snared again and dragged ever closer. When he was within reach of Doctor Holiday, one Santa-attired arm reached down and picked Danny up by the collar of his pajama shirt.

Doctor Holiday looked into the man’s eyes as he thrashed and cursed, hit and kicked, screeched and cried. None of which availed him against the tall and burly transhuman.

“Guilty,” Doctor Holiday said. “As charged.”

With as much emotion in his eyes as a man putting a bag of trash into a garbage can, Doctor Holiday hurled Daniel James into the inferno that had been his home.

The James family watched aghast, and cringed at the screams inside. They cried for their family member even though they had hated him most days more than anything else.

Doctor Holiday went to his bag, reached in, and began tossing out clothes, boots and coats that no onlooker doubted was sized appropriately to each surviving family member. As they pulled warm clothing over their pajamas, shivering and terrified, Doctor Holiday said, “I’m glad none of you are hurt or dead. I would say I’m sorry about the hamster, but I despise rodents. For the same reason, I don’t mourn your husband and father.”

Then Doctor Holiday looked at the thick photo album in the arms of the former Mrs. James, and plucked it away, throwing it into the house.

“This is no place for sentiment, Sally,” he told her. “The man in them isn’t worth remembering, and the children of those years aren’t to be remembered either—only repaired and raised right from now on as healthy versions of the tortured shadows they once were.”

He reached into the bag one more time, and pulled out stack after stack of plastic-wrapped currency. Some of it U.S. currency, some Canadian, some Mexican, some Italian and one small parcel that was Chinese.

“I apologize for the need to do some currency exchange,” he said. “But I think you can buy a new house, furniture and necessities.”

He turned away, muttered “Merry Christmas” and headed for the edge of town.

No one followed him.

* * *

Doctor Holiday was spotted by tourists in a car some days later, who thought it odd to see a man in a three-piece suit with his head wrapped in bandages and a digital display on his chest walking by the edge of a major highway.

Before they sped by in their travels down the interstate, they noted what the display said.

4 days, 9 hours and 2 minutes ’til New Year’s Day.