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Groundskeeping [IC]

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Date: June 5th, 2010 (a Saturday), 9:00-ish pm (~30 mins after sunset)

(Occurs after this thread)

Following his run-in with Lady Winter and Wander, Dead Head realized he needed some professional help in restoring the serene calm to the small family plot in North Bay. Sure, he got the skeletons he'd called up to re-bury themselves, but the combination of Lady Winter's chilly presence and the skeletons bursting forth had done a number on the landscaping and local flora. Fortunately, he knew someone who fit the bill perfectly, and she was just a phone call away.

Too bad the Revoltin' Revenant didn't have a cell phone. Or anything besides the clothes on his back and the shovel in his hand.

Stesha Madison's cell phone rang. Though the number was unfamiliar, something -- boredom? whimsy? concern over someone in need of help? -- made her answer.

"Hello. You are receiving a collect call from Dead Head. Will you accept the charges?"

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Up until this moment, Stesha'd had her night all planned out. With a Gilmore Girls marathon on television, her pedicure set, and a bowl of popcorn on the table, and her favorite ratty sweatsuit on, she was all set to make a virtue of the necessity of Derrick's trip to some distant galaxy for a rescue mission. He couldn't be home all the time, and they'd been in Chicago for so much of last week, he had catching up to do.

She'd been just about to apply the paint to her first toe when the phone rang, playing the Toy Story theme that indicated an unknown number. "Dead Head?" she asked the air, wondering what the odd-looking hero would need to be calling her for. But it had to be important, didn't it? Mentally writing off a chunk of her planned relaxing evening, she said "Yes, I'll accept the charges."

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"Hey, Fleur!," the bizarrely jovial zombie exclaimed in his Southern drawl. "Thanks fer acceptin'; hope this ain't a bad time to call. Listen, I'm in a bit of a mess up in North Bay -- nothin' too serious, no one's in any danger -- but somethin' I do need yer help on. Think you can come over? I'm off'a... oh, where was that sign... ah, yeah, near the corner'a Foxgrove an' Skylark."

The Revoltin' Revenant was calling from a pay phone near a gas station. One vehicle was there, a businessman filling up his Mid-Life Crisismobile, and he hoped the man sped away quickly.

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"Um, sure, I know where that is," Stesha told him. "I can be over there in a couple minutes. Is this a problem I should put on my uniform for, or some other kind?" She could envision both kinds of situations befalling the very inhuman-looking Dead Head. There was something to be said for knowing people who looked like normal human beings. "Let's see... that's near a cemetery and a church with a community garden, right?"

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"Uhhh... whichever one ya'd wear when yer out fixing up th' aftermath of super-battles."

That first sound, which would normally be the simple sound of someone unsure of how to answer, sounded quite unpleasant coming from the zombie. So unpleasant, in fact, that MidLife Crisismobile Man decided he should investigate the possibly wounded man at the phone. Had he been mugged? Shot? Stabbed? He sounded in pain, said something about a battle, and appeared to be slumped over. But Freedonians came together in times like this, and that's what made it such a great city. He could help this poor man; there was a small clinic not too far from here, he could offer him a lift over. Yes, that's what he'd do, he'd march right over to him and...

"Some Ice Lady was-"

Stesha heard a sudden scream over the line.

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"Dead Head?" Stesha asked into the phone. "Crap!" Extending her senses as jumped up, tumbling the bowl of popcorn as she went, Stesha searched for the nearest plant to Dead Head, even as she grabbed her belt and fastened it on over her pink sweatsuit. In a heartbeat, she'd closed her fingers over the leaves of her hypoestis and was popping out of a sickly dandelion halfway across town. "Gas station, gas station... he's gotta be at a payphone to call collect." She began running towards the white and blue light that said PHONE.

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"Zombie! ZOMBIE!!!!"

That was the first thing Stesha heard when she materialized, and she soon saw the source: a middle aged businessman pointing and yelling at Dead Head, who was ever-so-slightly cowering from him.

"Sir, I ain't no zombie," he said in a calm (but still raspy) voice. "I ain't mindless, I don't hunger fer yer brains, I-"

"My brains! NO!" The man grasped his head with one hand, but kept the other up in a defensive posture. "NOOOOO!"

"Sir, I..." Dead Head paused when he spotted Stesha, and turned slightly to wave at her, smiling. "Oh, hey, Fleur!"

When he turned, the man bolted for his sportscar by the gas pumps.

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"Oh my God, Luke!" Stesha crowed, loudly enough for everyone in the parking lot to hear her. "I love your OUTFIT! It looks so realistic! Did Rory do your makeup? I swear, she shouldn't have let you out of the house looking like that, you're going to scare these people." Giving a brilliant smile to the unfortunate middle-aged interloper, Stesha walked over to Dead Head. "Have you ever thought about getting a costume that ah, causes a little less torch and pitchfork reaction?" she asked him in a murmur, a rueful smile on her face. She herself was hardly the poster girl for costumes, in a pink sweatsuit and barefoot, her belt crooked around her waist and her long green hair spilling down her back. "Are you okay?"

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The businessman whirled around when Stesha began talking, and calmed as she spun her small deception. The zombie wasn't attacking her, and no one that cute could be a necromancer, so it must all be some costume thing. Embarrassed, he quickly sped off.

The zombie was visibly relieved (or maybe it was just experiencing some spontaneous decay/loosening of his facial muscles). "Thanks, Stesh; I've had enough'a misunderstandin's fer one evenin'. As fer th' outfit..." He picked at his tattered leather jacket, which she could now see was of a different style than the last one she'd seen him in, though still as ratty, "it's all the dumpster had what fit. Ain't like I have a lot of choice in what I wear."

"But," the zombie continued as he turned and began walking down the two-lane road, headed east, "my appearance ain't the issue. Well... actually, it kinda was, but I was just as guilty, too. See," he turned his head to see her as she caught up, looking at her with eyes wreathed in emerald flames and turning his head more than any living person could, "there was this gal. A blonde. With blue skin. She was freezin' up a small family plot. I overreacted, thought she was one'a them Ice People, like the Glacier fella Johnny Rocket fought, plottin' somethin' nefarious. So... well..."

Stesha had seen many odd things in her days, but an anxious zombie was a new one even for her.

"I acted without thinkin' through first, I charged her. Stupid rookie mistake, I know, the kind'a thing what gets too many folks killed."

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Stesha had fallen behind, trying to pick her way along the road without stepping on anything painful or dangerous along the way. She was debating popping home for her shoes when Dead Head started talking about what had happened. Concerned, she stopped entirely. "Are you okay?" she asked, looking him over. He seemed... well, it was really hard to tell whether he was hurt or not, but all his major body parts seemed to be attached still. "Is she okay? What happened?"

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The zombie waved dismissively at Stesha, "Oh, no need to worry yerself about ol' Dead Hed, I's jes' fine. Though it ain't fer her lack'a tryin'! Soon as she saw me chargin' towards her, she flung out a big icicle at me. But she missed! Can ya believe it?!" The zombie chuckled, and the sound wasn't too disturbing, "So I figure, 'okay, she missed me, she cain't be a good shot. Gotta be a rookie. Mebe I ca jes' scare her off.' So I play up the 'horrible brain-eatin' monster' act, see if that'll make her bolt. Heh, 'course, the funny thin' about the Fight-er-Flight response is that ya never really know what ya'll get. An' in this case..."

Dead Head raised his arms over his head, stretching them this way and that. A few pieces of ice fell out from his sleeves.

"... she froze me solid in'a block'a ice! An' I mean solid, had me wrapped up tighter'n'a tick on a dog's butt!"

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Stesha had to laugh a little at the icky simile, but she was still a little worried. "Where did she go? If she thinks you're a villain, she could be a problem for you, couldn't she? Bad enough the way normal people react, you don't need any superheroes getting the wrong idea about you. Just one second." She grew a giant daffodil by the side of the road, then opened the cup with both hands and leaned her upper body inside it. After a moment of rummaging, she came out with a pair of sneakers. "At least ice isn't going to last long in weather like this."

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"Girl, y'ain't gotta tell me twice -- I already gots one superpowered gal after mah head!" The zombie laughed again, "met her at that Fisticuffs thing late last month. But I'll get back ta her in a bit."

He shook off some more ice while waiting for Stesha.

"So, there I was, frozen solid, couldn't move a muscle. But that don't mean I couldn't do anythin'. I called out to th' local haunts, askin' fer help in stoppin' her... but while I was doin' that, th'Ice Princess came at me with a giant ice hammer an' shattered me!"

"Well, not completely shattered, else my clothes'd been ruined an I'd be naked now, an' no one'd wanna see that! Least," he chuckled again, "not anyone I'd wanna know!"

"So, about two dozen'a the locals came up to help me stop the gal what'd burst into their home an' started crankin' down the thermostat. I told 'em ta jes' hold her while I worked on gettin' myself back together, an' then she appeared. Moved like greased lightnin', knocked all their heads off by the time I'd stood up, an' she was lookin' t'take off mine next!"

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"So the ice girl broke away from your zombies, and knocked all their heads off, and threatened you as well?" Stesha asked, her eyes going wide. "It doesn't sound like she's the type you can scare away very easily." She tugged the sneakers on and followed Dead Head again, at a better pace this time. "How did you get away?"

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"Nawww," The zombie drawled, "Lady Winter -- that's what th'Ice Princess called herself -- froze me solid, an' smashed me, but th'other gal, the one from the Fisticuffs thing, is the one what smashed all the skeletons I raised up, and looked t'do th' same t'me."

They'd reached the edge of the small family plot.

"Not that I can' really blame her, given what I saw back at th'Arena. First time we met, the gal attacked me, like a mad dog after a steak. A... friend got her t'stop-"

Dead Head chose not to mention Avenger by name, or even code-name. He knew the vampire didn't have the best reputation, in either identity.

"- and she went on, but later she came back an' started askin' me questions about what I am. I answered, an' asked some questions'a my own, but she said it weren't none'a my business. But I kept askin', an' then... then..."

The zombie's mouth tightened for a moment, and the emerald flames in his eyes flared a tiny bit.

"I still don't know how I do it, but sometimes, when I look at someone, I can see all the ways Death has touched 'em. Know about anyone they's killed, or anyone they'd lost. An' that's what happened there, in th'Arena: I loked at her, an' saw..."

Was Dead Head... shaking?

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Stesha gave the plot a good looking over while Dead Head spoke, reaching into her pouch to draw out the seeds she'd need to supplement what plants could be fixed. It wasn't going to take very long, but she could see the signs of the fight clearly. She paused and turned to look at him full on when he began having difficulty finding words. "Are you okay?" she asked worriedly, putting a careful hand on his shoulder.

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The zombie calmed at her touch; Stesha got the feeling he didn't get a lot of non-violent physical contact like that. "Yeah, but that gal ain't. What I seen in her was that everyone she loved, everyone she knew -- her whole world -- was eaten up by undead ghouls. So," he gave a slight shrug, "yeah, I get why she attacked me on sight, and hates my guts. I don't even hold a grudge fer the second beatin' she then gave me in th'Arena, where she punched mah head clean off."

Dead Head slowly began circling the area, making sure no bones were missed. "So, like I said, there I was, frozen an' smashed by Lady Winter, an' this other gal -- I think she goes by th' name Wander -- shows up outta nowhere and goes after the folks I'd raised like a fox in a henhouse. I get up, Winter an' I have words, an' of course Wander takes Winter's side. Eventually I realize th'error I made in actin' 'fore I got the whole picture, an' apologize ta Winter, then I get the locals back up so's they can re-bury theyselves. Wander looked none too pleased at that, I half-expected her t'smash 'em again and tell me ta do the diggn' myself!"

"But, as ya can see," he spread his arms wide, "the combination of the cold from Lady Winter, the locals diggin' theyselves up, Wander smashin' 'em all up, and then me helpin' e'm back up so they could re-bury theyselves, did a number to th' landscape. So, I called you. While I was headin' to th' phone, I heard one's them weird sci-fi movie noises, an' when I looked back, Winter an' Wander was gone. Guess Wander can teleport, an' she took Winter back ta some safehouse."

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"Oh, what a mess," Stesha said sympathetically, patting his arm. It was a little gross, but she regularly dug her hands into compost with no problem, and that was inarguably worse. "It sounds like it was all a big misunderstanding, and you having to take the blame for something terrible that happened to someone else. At least everyone is okay, and hopefully things will work themselves out in time. Let me get this cleaned up for you."

Stesha turned to her work, walking over the disturbed ground and scattering seeds right and left. Where she walked, the broken sod reknit itself into a well-groomed whole, and the seeds sprang into flowers, a colorful blanket for the sleeping dead. "Do you see a lot of superheroes or villains in cemeteries?" she asked him.

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Dead Head's rictus grin grew a bit wider as he watched Stesha work her magic. Wish they was all this nice

"Not a whole lot, an' most'a what I do see are the villainous type. Folks comin' t'rob a grave, either of valuables or of the corpse within, or lookin' t'enslave spirits what haunt the place. Some of 'em -- mostly the petty graverobbers an' jaded teens lookin' to th' Dark Side fer a thrill -- I can scare off, but sometimes it takes more, an' that's when I gotta get physical. Sometimes a case a hero's workin' on'll see their paths cross with mine, but I'm the only one what regularly patrols the cemeteries an' other restin' places."

Dead Head hopped up on a headstone and sat with his legs dangling, getting out of the way of the new growth Stesha was calling up. He looked down at the blooming flowers, then up and grinned at Stesha. "Guess that's somethin' you an' I got in common: we both work on things what come after the 'Big Events'."

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"I work the cemeteries as well," Stesha told him with a smile. "You might have seen my work this Memorial Day, I was out in force that week. It seems hardly fair that the older cemeteries get fewer flowers than the newer ones." She gestured with her hand and a trio of tulips rose in front of a grave, unfolding their petals into pretty orange cups. Plucking one, she sealed the bottom of the stem with the tips of her fingers and handed it to Dead Head. He looked like he needed one. "But you're right, I prefer working cleanup operations. I'm better than I used to be at actually mixing it up, but I prefer the aftermath, when the battle is done and we can set things right."

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Dead Head snapped his fingers, "I figured that was you what did all that work! Yeah, I saw, an' I was impressed! An' so was a lot'a the locals!"

He gently took the flower-cup and held it carefully in his hand, in part because he was not entirely sure what to do with it. "Y'know what else is a shame? The way cemeteries don't do headstones anymore. Least, not the public ones. Most states passed laws back in th' 60s sayin' graves could only have flat markers, not big headstones, so's to make it easier to mow the grass. I mean, a cemetery just loses a lot'a it's... whatchacallit... ambiance if it ain't got no tombstones!"

"But, yeah, that's jes' the way'a things, I s'pose," the zombie opined, "th' livin' fergettin' the' dead, the old makin' way fer th' new. An', in a way," he kicked off his boots and let his toes brush against the new grass, "that is how it should be, there should be a movin' on, fer both th' livin' an' th' dead. But they ought not ferget 'em, not entirely. Which is, y'know, my whole... thang. That's why Memorial Day's actually become my favorite holiday."

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Stesha paused to fill an old forgotten planter with bright hydrangea, the showy bursts of flowers spilling out over the sides. "I wish it were like they used to do it in, oh, I guess it was the 1800s or so, where the cemeteries were parks, and people went there for fun. They were the only green open spaces in the cities, so families would go and picnic there, children would play among the graves. I know cemeteries are places to have respect for the dead, but it seems like it's a shame to have places that are so beautiful be so sad. I don't know," she said, sitting back on her heels and looking up at him. "You have a unique perspective on it, what do you think?"

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Dead Head laughed slapped his thigh, "that does sound like a great thin'! Lil' kids runnin' around, seein' where their great-great-grandfolks is stayin', bringin' some joy to the place. I mean," he paused and cocked his head slightly, "assumin' the kids are respectful, they don't run around knockin' over stuff or spraypaintin' the headstones."

"But, guess that kinda attitude's gone tha way'a Queen Victoria." The zombie sounded a tad saddened, but quickly perked back up, "I mean, there was huge interest in tha Dead back then, spirit mediums an' seances an' such. Ya don't see much interest in that nowadays, 'cept in horror movies, or that 'reality' show. Whatsitcalled... Ghost Facers."

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"I don't watch much reality TV," Stesha replied with a smile. "I don't like to watch people being horrible to each other. Well, except Bridezillas," she admitted. "I watch that sometimes just to make myself feel better over some of the bitchy women I have to deal with. You know," she said, changing subjects as she stood up, "I know some freegans who seem to be pretty good at finding the right dumpsters for decent clothes. I could get in touch with them if you want, maybe give you some leads on better places to get clothes?" She didn't want to insult Dead Head, but the truth was that he looked pretty ucky to start with, and the dirty, falling-apart clothes didn't help. "I mean, if that's what you want to do. Is living out here," she waved a vague hand around the cemetery and the nighttime streets, "how you prefer it?"

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Dead Head actually shuddered at the mention of Bridezillas, "man, I saw an ep'a that once at Jack an' Taylor's. An' they say I'm scary! I'd rather face Malador and a mess'a demons than some'a them gals!"

The zombie chuckled again when the top changed to clothing and housing. "Clothin's easy ta come by, I just need ta remember ta go by an' replace ma outfits more often. An' bein' out here does make it easier fer me ta' tend ta the ones what need help. An' puttin' aside tha legal issue of me ownin' property, what woudl I need a home fer? I don't sleep, I don't eat -- not even... well.... y'know..." He winked at Fleur, "An' cold an' heat don't bother me none. Knowin' me, all I'd do if I had a real place'a my own is sit around an' watch tv all day, or try an' use that world wahd web thing."

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