Friday, August 24, 2018

The Dead and the Restless by Paul Lubaczewski

Peggy befriends a local voodoo practitioner while volunteering on a renewable energy project in disaster-scarred Haiti, but there are people who do not want her there; by Paul Lubaczewski.

Dear god, it was hot. This was nothing in the way of a surprise, though, Haiti was always hot, just like the Arctic was always cold. It was always hot, and steamy, and often miserable without air conditioning or a ton of fans. So why was she here? It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but then again MANY things seemed like a good idea at the time, hell was probably full of people who said that. "It'll count towards your degree!" "You'll be doing good for a community!" OK, and maybe the treacherous honest thought, "Free all expenses paid trip to the Caribbean!" might have been in there somewhere. Peggy had thought she knew hot, she went to Cal San Diego for Pete's sake. She had now discovered, though, the phrase, "But it's a dry heat," was not just a phrase but a steaming hot reality.

Why SHE was here, though, was that Haiti was viewed by many in the Green Revolution as the ultimate opportunity, born of the most terrible of tragedies. Due to natural disaster after natural disaster, the energy infrastructure had been reduced to almost nil, this provided a chance to start from scratch. Enter David, and his company, Green Sun Rising, a solar energy firm. David was a Cal grad and a former Prof who had left to form the company. Now, he used the connections he had with the college to get undergrads to use for labor. What a beautiful sales pitch, doing good, free travel, learning by doing, the exact sort of thing that might appeal to you if you were naive as all hell, and sitting around an off-campus apartment a few credits short for the year. Especially if there had been a lot of those "Feed The World For Pennies A Day" commercials running that week.

And that was that, here she was. Occasionally, on a particularly rough day, she would stop and just wonder at the fact that she had actually APPLIED for this. She had waited, with bated breath, terrified that she actually MIGHT NOT BE ACCEPTED for this. This was not to say they weren't actually doing good work, at least three villages were hooked to a green power grid now. Solar as much as possible, but backed with renewable-powered generators, one experimental wave generator, multiple vertical axis wind generators, and a ton of batteries for storage. They could be providing more homes with power, they had more than enough generation at this point, but they were forced to wire the houses, and in some cases build the houses as they went. Mother Nature had been a bit of a - rhymes with witch - to this part of the world in recent years. But they were doing good, and you could see it, even at night now as the villages twinkled away against the night sky.

The first house they had wired after their own base was Mambo Kettly, or Miss Kettly if she thought you were "government". The villagers had more than insisted, they had demanded that if anyone got juice, she got it first. The old woman had fussed at them while they were doing it, saying over and over, "Don't be seein' the need for this buzziment, candles been good enough all the times before this!" but never telling them to stop.

The old woman had a satellite dish TV subscriber service now, paid for by the locals.

This ensured that Peggy got to be friends with her. The base HAD computers of course and a television, but between David not liking to waste power, and the other assistants hogging it, there wasn't that much time to veg in front of any of them. Even that wasn't entirely the true reason. Peggy, if pressed, would eventually, under intense questioning, admit to the most important reason she went to the old woman's shanty to watch TV every day: they both had abysmal taste in programming.

It went way past cheesy movies, which they watched; if ONLY that was the depths of their depravity, she might be able to admit that to her peers. No, it went all the way, reality programming, not even the vaguely educational stuff like American Pickers, no the full depths of Honey Boo Boo. It went into dark, unexplored depths of American housewives' private hours, like Judge Judy, and game shows, and (shudder) soap operas. No, better to hang out with some weird voodoo woman than admit that.

The language barrier had been hard during the first days of their tentative friendship, the old woman's English was choppy at best, and Peggy's French was laughable. Often the old woman would laugh softly at her more pronounced mispronunciations. Eventually, though, through the magic of terrible television, they had begun to teach each other. Mambo Kettly could now be heard to cackle, "Suck on THAT!" and then laugh uproariously. Whenever Peggy was annoyed at one of her more thickheaded male undergrad co-workers she would calmly invite them to, "Suce ma bite."

The old woman had carefully broached the subject with her about what she meant to the villagers one day. "You know what all this is? " she asked waving her hand at her front room.

"Voodoo? " Peggy replied nonplussed.

"Ummmm... well, yes, how you know?" Mambo Kettly asked surprised.

"Well, you don't often see a bar stocked that well that no-one ever drinks from. I've only ever seen you drink Barbancourt and Prestige's, so I know that isn't all for you. That, and the skull, yeah, the skull was a hint," Peggy shrugged.

"You want to know anything about it?"

"Do you... uhh do zombies and stuff?"

"No, no, I protect from dat kinda ting I do. Der are other bokors, maybe with their morals all screwed up, maybe they might do those things. People no like bein' no Zombie, dey come to me," the old lady smiled beatifically at that.

"One other thing."

"Yes, child?"

"Why do you have a pet chicken?" this had been really bugging her.

"Touissant? He keeps me company, he helps me. I saw when he was young, dis ain't no normal chick, no frying pan for him. No, this one," she pointed at the pitch black cockerel that had perched himself on her enormous wooden chair, "him, he, ti bon ange, that one."

They went back to watching "The Price Is Right".

Life had found a rhythm.



Today they were working on the jatropha greenhouse, which was miserable work any way you cut it. They all took a shift here or there doing it, it wasn't the highest priority on their list, so it was whoever was deemed "free" that day stuck out here. Today, that was Peggy and the boss man himself. David wasn't a bad guy really, but who really enthuses about working all day directly with their boss right there?

The jatropha really didn't need the greenhouses that much for the normal reasons, the stuff would grow anywhere. But they had plans for it, to plant it in some of the areas where farming was pointless or incredibly difficult due to the terrain. Jatropha produces oil for bio-diesel among other things, and it would be a major boon to their efforts here to get full grown hedges.

The problem that led them to want a greenhouse to start the plants was, this was the tropics, in the rainy season everything grew, including on steel and concrete, and they didn't want the plants choked out before they had a chance to establish. The plant had huge possibilities for the region, if they could plant something to hold the soil together to prevent erosion, something that was more useful growing than it was as firewood. It would prevent some of the flooding. Jatropha and the oil it produced could be that thing.

The wood frame had been built, and the anchor pipes had been sunk already, which meant their job would be assembling the arches that would provide the roof. Assembling the pre-cut lengths was more or less busy work, but it can't all be working out designs for putting a new village on to the grid, in fact, it rarely was. It doesn't take all that very long to design it, and David did a large percentage of that himself, while showing them what he was doing, so they WERE learning something. After the design work was done, though, there was hours and hours of actually installing up to code wiring, and hooking it to the grid. If this environmental science and design gig didn't work out, Peggy was positive she had a shining future waiting for her as an electrician.

Neither of them had been talking to the other much, not out of any animus towards each other, but just sensible behavior. It was hot, they were both sweating, and a storm was coming in the distance, so there was no point in a lot of small talk. The more they could get done now before the rains came, the less they would have to do later.

A movement near one of the trails caught her eye so she looked up from her work. "Touissant?" Peggy said aloud.

"You say something," David said, not looking up from what he was doing. He wasn't wasting any energy either. His shirt was plastered to his wiry muscular frame, and his scattershot gray hair was shiny with sweat already.

"It's Touissant," said Peggy standing up from what she was working on, "it's Mambo Kettly's bird. I've never seen him once without her around."

"Maybe it just strayed off?" David asked.

"I doubt it, I've never seen him stray more than a few feet from her before," she answered as she started to walk towards the bird.

David himself stood up and started to walk over to join her. "I really think it most likely wandered off."

"But David, what if she's hurt? " Peggy asked sounding worried, as the cockerel walked up to her and pecked at her feet.

"That's true, she's been valuable as all heck getting the locals to trust us," David said rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"That and she's a sweet old lady I happen to like a lot, you heartless creep," Peggy snarled, not kidding nearly as much as David took it as. Touissant had jogged down the path leading to the old lady's house and turned back to look at them. He took another step and looked back again.

"He looks like he wants us to follow him," Peggy said.

"I'm sure he isn't smart enough. But if you're worried, if we must,"David said dubiously

"We must."

Both of them began to follow the rooster down the path, staying a few feet behind him as he went. He clearly was trying to get them to follow him for whatever reason, despite what David said. They were so engaged in that, they hadn't been looking behind them. They certainly didn't see the men come out of the woods. Dressed in rags. With an ashy white sheen on their dark skin. Marching directly to where they had just been. Odds were pretty good that they weren't sent by Mambo Kettly.



They had been following the trail for some time, and were getting close to Mambo Kettly's house when David said, "Don't look now, but we've got followers." Automatically Peggy's head turned to look back down the trail. "Hey, I told you not to look," David chided.

"Automatic," Peggy replied, "and if I had said that, like you wouldn't have looked?"

"Point. I suppose. Looking at them, I don't suppose it matters if they know you see them, now that I think about it."

"Maybe we should just move along a little quicker," Peggy said staring at the shambling men coming up the trail.

"Yes, I think that might be a fine idea. It's a lovely sweaty steamy day for a light jog wouldn't you agree?"



"Where the heck you been? I send Touissant for you ages ago!" Mambo Kettly boomed as they came into the clearing where her house stood.

"Thank god you're OK! I was worried when I saw Touissant!" exclaimed Peggy running over to the frail old woman.

"Which is more than I can say for you two I think," said Kettly gravely looking over their shoulders.

"I was meaning to ask you about that," David said looking over his own shoulder, not seeing anyone there yet, but sure that would be changing.

"You get in me house right now, I explain it to you," the old woman said beckoning them indoors.

Once they were all indoors the old lady turned to them, "Maybe this not the time for a whole lot of questions, so why don't we all be quiet for a minute and let me talk huh?"

Peggy looked at David who shrugged, then turned to Mambo Kettly and said, "OK, sure. What's this about."

The old lady gave her a smile and said, "Well, Mister David here, he got people who don't like him much. See, there be money in kickbacks and things. Gas need to go from place to place, you pay someone, make sure it gets there. You want to set up wires, it goes to a big ol' factory, lots of paying someone. And you keep on paying and paying one man or another. Mister David here has been doing things out the goodness of his heart, and where's the money in that? No policeman getting paid under no tables to protect the route the sun needs to take right? Not like gasoline, needs to be driven or pumped everywhere. Well some of them men, they hired themselves a bokor, he sees these panels and other things as magic that is competition to him, so he might have done it for free. You see anyone following you coming here?"

"Umm, yes, yes we did," said David gravely.

"Good thing you know me then huh Mister David?"



Peggy and David were still in the shack at Mambo Kettly's insistence, watching through an open window. The old lady had gone outside to face whatever was out there by herself, well, Touissant had gone with her. She had left the TV on and had pointed out the remote to both of them, "In case you don't want to be seeing what you don't want to be thinkin' bout none. Just a warning, Judge Judy be a re-run."

"Shouldn't we try and help her? " asked David.

"Any ideas on how the hell we would do that?"

"Good point."

They were both glued to the window, though, and trying to watch the old woman carefully. From what she had said, their rescue mission of Mambo Kettly had been more "being rescued," and they had best hope the old lady didn't have a sudden heart attack. None of this had been covered in any class or orientation meeting, if she died their next move wasn't clear to either of them.

As they watched, the old woman stumped over to her scarecrow of all things. It wasn't even much of a scarecrow, just a formal jacket and hat stuck on a cross. Weirdly enough though there was a glass, an ashtray, and a cane lying in front of that. She had carried out a fresh bottle of her best rum with her, and now she cracked the bottle and poured out a healthy amount into the glass. Then she stood back and started speaking as if to the scarecrow itself in rapid fire French.

"Umm, David, what in the hell is she saying? " asked Peggy.

"Geez, my French isn't much better than yours, and she's talking really fast," replied David. "Lessee, 'Hear me Baron Samedi you know me very well, your humble servant Mambo Kettly. If you don't help me now you're going to know me a lot better soon when I'm putting my foot in your bony butt.'"

"That's Mambo Kettly all right. Baron Samedi? I think I heard that in a Bond flick once," said Peggy.

"Will you shush? I'm having a hard enough time translating as is," David snapped at her.

"Well pardon me all to hell," shrugged Peggy.

While they were grumbling at each other the old woman had stopped and stood even further back from the nailed together sticks and coat. Suddenly, there was an enormous cracking noise. There, directly in front of the scarecrow, a rift had opened in the earth itself! Steam boiled out of the earth, enveloping the scarecrow as it billowed straight up!

"Jesus!" exclaimed Peggy.

"I've never seen such a localized seismic event as THAT before," said David with an infuriating calm that made Peggy want to wallop him.

"Could you be any more soulless? " she grumbled.

"What? What did I say?"

"Never mind."

Their eyes were riveted to the steam and the old woman now, who seemed quite calm about the whole thing. Visible through the mist, they saw a man stepping forward. But, when he finally stepped out of the clouds, it wasn't any normal man. It had a face that was either painted as a skull or was a skull, it was hard to tell from where they were. He was wearing the coat and top hat that had made the scarecrow, carrying the skull-headed cane laid at the altar in one hand, and the glass of rum in the other. Sticking out of where a mouth would be was a cigar adding to the fumes and steam of the cracked earth. His eyes were not visible behind the dark black round sunglasses he wore.

"So dear Kettly, what is so important that you would rise me up today?" David translated.

Mambo Kettly pointed to the jungle on the edge of her little farmstead. Coming out of the wooded area were the men who had been following Peggy and David since the greenhouse. Mambo Kettly and the skull-faced man talked back and forth now in rapid-fire French, her pointing at the men shambling towards them, and the house where Peggy and David were hiding, and the man listening and responding stone-faced.

Peggy looked at David for translation, he shrugged and said, "They're talking way too fast for me, I barely caught any of that."

As if he had heard enough, the tall thin skeleton-faced man waved his bony fingers and nodded his head at Mambo Kettly. He outstretched his arms, the cane still in one hand, the rum in the other, and bellowed in a deep but somehow nasal voice, "Survenir!"

Peggy turned to David, "Arise?" David nodded back at her.

They heard crashing sounds now coming from the jungle behind the man in the top hat.

The men who had been following David and Peggy had started lurching forward again and had reached the door to the shack! Peggy gave a little yell when one of them began banging on the door.

"Look!" David said pointing back to the top-hatted man. He was now flanked by physically large men, similar in appearance to the ones who had been trailing them. The man pointed, and they began to lurch towards the house as well.

"I can't believe she sold us out!" Peggy snarled indignantly.

"Hold on, hold on, I don't think they're joining the ones outside," David said with the same infuriating calm he'd maintained the entire time.

As they watched, each of these new men the skull man had called forth grabbed one of the ones that had followed them from the greenhouse. The larger men dragged their pursuers over towards the top-hatted one. The man with the cane and the top hat grinned widely, he didn't have much choice really, but he seemed pleased.

One of their pursuers was dragged in front of the man in the top hat. He leaned in and seemed to say something to the man, who suddenly jerked as if struck by lightening. It had been an enormously weird day already, and now it got weirder. As they watched, the man who had been such a threat to them just a moment before started to dissolve before their eyes! The skin cracked and began to peel back and fall away, revealing rapidly rotting muscles which in their turn fell away revealing the bone beneath. There was a loud clattering as he finally collapsed into a pile of bones, which also began to crumble away to nothing but dust.

"Wow," breathed Peggy, "just like the end of a vampire flick." David looked at her but said nothing. When you're right, you're right.

While they watched the scene was repeated over and over as each of the men who had pursued them was dragged in front of the tall man who repeated his actions, and got the same result. When it was over the tall man waved his arm expansively towards the jungle and the men he had summoned tramped their way back to wherever they had come from.

Mambo Kettly bowed much deeper than would have been expected of a woman of her age to the man, and said, "Merci. C'est vraiment gentil de ta part Baron Samedi!"

The skeleton faced man smiled at Mambo Kettly, again despite his lack of choice, you knew he was smiling, Peggy would never be able to explain that as long as she lived, but you could just tell. He inclined his head and replied, "Je vous en prie." He turned and walked back to where the scarecrow had been, steam still billowing up from the hole, and then, he was gone.

Peggy rushed to open the door to check on Mambo Kettly, but David stayed glued to the window. As he watched, the dirt that had been upthrust from the cracking of the earth began to settle down. By the time Peggy was out the door, the steam had stopped altogether. As he watched her move to where the old woman still stood, it was like not even one crumb of the soil had ever been disturbed at all!

A few minutes later Peggy and Kettly came inside with Peggy fussing over the old woman to make sure she was alright. The woman kept telling her she was fine, but that didn't stop Peggy from helping her to her throne of a chair, and bustling off to find her a Premier.

While Peggy was out in the back where the refrigerator was kept, Mambo Kettly looked at David smiling, "So, you have anything you want to say science man?"

David looked thoughtful for a moment, but then smiled a little and said, "I suppose thank you would be best at the moment."

"You're welcome," she said with a delighted smile as Peggy returned and handed her the open beer.

"So," said Peggy brightly, "I thought you said you didn't do zombies?"

The old woman had the decency to look slightly embarrassed, "Welllll, they ain't mine, but, you don't look a gift in the mouth and all, especially those mouths, de smell. How de Baron he want to handle things, that's his business. I don't criticize."

David stared at her long and hard for awhile, and then finally asked out loud, "Why did you save us?"

The old lady looked back at him intently for a moment and then said, "What you bringing here sir, it's good for my children. It gives them some control over their own selves. You helping all of them with this. They need you." She broke off and smiled broadly. "Anyway, if I let you get killed by dem dead things, who gonna fix it when the power goes out? You thinkin' I'm lettin' my beer get hot skunked?" She laughed a bit at that, and then looked at Peggy, who was staring at the floor. "You got something that needs askin'?"

"So, did you just save me because I was out with David?" she asked in a quiet voice.

"Course not girl, that a silly thing to say," the old lady said in a comforting tone patting her on her leg, "I can't be letting you get killed, ain't nobody else wanting to watch General Hospital with me girl."

3 comments:

  1. Its about time for a green zombie story.

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  2. A fun read with the zombie action well described. Good zombies vs. bad is a nice twist. Love the bit about Peggy and Mambo Kettly sharing a weakness for reality TV.

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  3. What happens when you're a writer finishing up your environmental sciences diploma.....
    Thanks for the kind words
    -Paul

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