Monday, October 8, 2012

Tourist Visa by Katherine Tomlinson


Roddy’s eyesight wasn’t too good because of the diabetes so when he first spotted the woman in the bright pink business suit, his first thought was that somehow a migrating flamingo had gotten lost and ended up in the Van.

That’s strange, Roddy thought, which was about all he could muster by way of analytical thinking before he’d topped up his blood alcohol reserves with a morning snoot of Night Train.

As he got closer to the woman he could see she was Asian—Chinese or Vietnamese or Korean or something with slanty eyes anyway—and he wondered if she had decided to hit the beach on her way to work and had just gotten caught up in a reverie sitting there on the sand with her shoes off.

That happened to Roddy sometimes.

It bothered him that the woman had taken her shoes off.

He could see the sand around her was littered with bits of broken glass and scraps of rusted metal.

She’d put her purse down on a pile of bladder-wrack that still looked fresh enough to harvest. Roddy knew people who used the sea vegetable to treat a variety of ailments, including a broken thyroid.

Personally, he wouldn’t eat anything that came out of the Pacific at this part of the beach.

He’d heard that they’d found caffeine pollution in the waters off Oregon and figured it was only a matter of time before it showed up in Vancouver, like the mass of tsunami debris that was starting to wash up all up and down the coast.

He walked toward the woman quietly, his hand out as if approaching a skittish animal.

The woman turned her head as Roddy approached and smiled at him.

She was pretty, with delicate features framed by a veil of silky black hair.

The hair looked a little dirty, but it had been a long time since a pretty woman had smiled at Roddy, so he wasn’t going to complain.

Truth to tell, Roddy’s hair wasn’t that clean either.

She said something to Roddy that he didn’t understand and reached out her small hand to meet his.

He closed his fingers around hers and was ashamed of how grimy and cracked his hand looked.

She pulled him toward her with surprising strength.

Off-balance, he fell on the sand with a bone-jarring crack.

Damn woman, what is your problem? he thought and it was the last thought he had before she chomped down on his throat and tore it out.

The next thing Roddy knew, he and the woman were at the Seawall, ambling along like any tourist couple except that she was barefoot and his shirt was covered in blood from where she'd bitten him.

Roddy zipped up his dirty windbreaker and kept his head down and if anyone noticed that there was something peculiar about his gait or the awkward hunch of his body as he lowered his chin to cover the gaping wound in his throat, they’d politely averted their gaze.

Roddy and the woman walked the full length of the path and then stood there at a loss until a tourist approached them to ask a question.

The question had made no sense to Roddy, who was having more trouble than usual processing his thoughts. When the tourist repeated the question, he’d bitten out her throat, just as the woman in the pink suit had bitten him.

There had been screams and a lot of blood and some animal instinct buried in what was left of Roddy’s mind told him that he and the woman needed to move and move now.

Behind them, the tourist got up and lumbered after them.

It was mid-day by then and the path was crowded, but when the tourists saw the trio coming, they scattered out of the way and many reached for their cell phones. Some took pictures of the trio and others called 911.

The first couple of calls were dismissed as pranks but when a tech-savvy Iowan in an Edmonton Oilers jersey emailed a picture of the three, officers were dispatched to the area. By then Roddy and the tourist and the woman in pink were moving east through the park and headed for downtown. A mounted patrolman in the park spotted the three but when he tried to get close to them his horse shied and threw him. The cop landed hard, breaking his left arm and ankle and could only watch helplessly as they disappeared through the trees.

It was lunch time as the woman in pink and her companions emerged from the park. People on the streets were wrapped up in their own concerns, concentrating on running errands and going to the bank and grabbing a bite to eat. Fixated on their own trajectories, nobody really noticed the man and two women walking against the flow of pedestrian traffic.

Not until a man leaving a restaurant on Jackson Street bumped into the woman in pink. He’d looked at her and then at her bare feet, filthy now from walking, and he’d been confused. “Are you lost?” he’d asked her in English and when she hadn't replied, he’d repeated the question in Japanese.

The woman had nodded slowly in answer to his question but had made no sound.

Roddy and the tourist had exchanged glances with each other, then moved as one to flank the man from the restaurant.

He sensed no danger until they were much too close for him to run, and as Roddy bit into the succulent flesh beneath his chin, he heard the woman in pink say something short and sharp.

He turned to look at her and the tourist sank her teeth into the gory wound Roddy had opened.

The woman in pink said something else, something more urgent this time, and began walking toward the restaurant the man had just exited.

The glowing kanji of the restaurant’s signage hurt Roddy’s eyes but drew him in like a magnet.

The tourist followed Roddy and the doomed diner stood up, shook his head to clear it and after straightening his glasses, which had fallen off during his brief struggle with Roddy, he headed for the restaurant as well.

The raw fish odor inside was a visible stink, a sharp yellow-green briny smell that reminded Roddy of the beach at low tide. He’d always been sensitive to smell and now an olfactory tsunami assaulted him and he nearly staggered under its weight.

Roddy had never liked sushi. In his 20s he’d lived in Los Angeles where you could get sushi in any supermarket but nobody even knew what poutine was. He’d tried to make his own with frozen fries and large-curd cottage cheese but it really wasn’t the same.

Roddy and his group blocked the door to the street and the bus boy who ran out the back door of the restaurant had slammed it behind him in his panic and trapped everyone else inside.

What happened next happened fast and it wasn’t pretty.

The sushi chef, who also owned the place, attacked the woman in pink with a Bunmei Yanagi Sashimi knife with a ten and a half inch blade. The knife had cost him $149 and had served him well preparing lunch and dinner for his customers for the last ten years. It was, however, a woefully inadequate weapon when directed against the walking dead who had no longer had to worry about damaged organs and ruptured blood vessels.

His last thought was that what he should have grabbed was the cleaver on the counter behind him.

By the time the cops arrived at the Japantown restaurant, all that was left for them to find was a lot of blood on the furniture and a lot of dead koi on the floor, collateral damage from the broken fish tank that had supplied the ambience and inspired the name of the restaurant, which translated to “The Happy Carp.”

A bystander stuck his head in and snapped a photo of the carnage, which he tweeted to, which did not make the cops happy at all.

The woman in pink and her posse continued to make their way into the heart of the city, almost as if they had a destination in mind but by the time they reached the Vancouver City Centre Skytrain station, the growing group was nearly surrounded by heavily armed police officers who remembered the 2011 Stanley Cup riot and were determined not to let the situation get out of hand.

A line of officers sealed off the entrance to the station because the last thing anybody wanted was the mob to move out of the city into the ’burbs where it would be harder to contain.

Three different translators were rushed to the site to address the mob, including Hiroshi Jinnai whose father had worked at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and had perished in the meltdown following the earthquake there.

The woman in pink seemed to understand Hiro’s questions but did not react to his warnings that the police would use lethal force if attacked. As Hiro nattered on, she simply looked at him mildly, her brown eyes liquid with unshed tears, her face a pale oval in the gathering darkness.

The standoff lasted for only a few minutes, but survivors would later have a hard time saying how long those few minutes had actually been, with some estimates as high as half an hour.

All agreed, though, that it had been Roddy who’d made the first move.

The combined scent of all the meat pressing close around him had filled his nostrils with a gnawing hunger that took him to the edge of madness.

He’d looked toward the woman in pink for a sign or a signal, but she seemed lost in her own thoughts, or whatever passed for thoughts through her dead brain.

Roddy had lunged at the nearest cop, moving much faster than the young officer had expected.

The cop had pushed back with his riot shield but Roddy had three inches and nearly a hundred pounds on him and had simply steamrolled over him.

The shooting started soon after that and the cops had to turn on their own at a certain point as the group of walking dead created new corpses to deal with.

In all, 357 people died, which put the loss of life ahead of the Princess Sophia sinking in 1918.

Service on the Skytrain was disrupted for almost 36 hours until the bodies could be removed and the premises decontaminated.

The human body contains 5.2 liters of blood. Multiply that by 357 people and that’s almost two thousand liters of the stuff, all of which had to be siphoned up and destroyed like medical waste.

Most of the tourists were identified immediately because they had their drivers’ licenses and passports in fanny packs and rucksacks they were still carrying.

Roddy was recognized from news photos by a volunteer at the Rain City Housing office, who arranged for his body to be cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific. An autopsy had shown Roddy was infected with MRSA, a superbug endemic in Vancouver’s homeless population. That was listed as the cause of death because no one wanted to talk about what really had happened to him.

Mika Kimura, the woman in pink, was identified by the Juki Net card in her purse, which was wrinkled and faded but still readable, along with her address. She’d been missing since April 11, 2011 and her family was grateful to have her back after all that time, grateful enough not to ask too many questions that the coroner didn't know how to answer.

Three days after Mika was returned to her family in Japan, the car she’d died in washed ashore as part of a tide of tsunami wreckage that had completed its journey across the Pacific.

Her faded red Toyota Auris was bumper-locked to a black Nissan Serena with its driver’s door rusted open.

The owner of the Nissan, Chiho Kakizaki, would be found a month later when she wandered into a busy intersection of Portland and was hit by two cars from different directions.

She tore out the throat of the first EMT to respond to the accident and was killed on the scene by a traffic cop who’d read all about the Vancouver incident and didn’t hesitate to bash her brains in with his tactical baton.

BIO: Katherine Tomlinsons fiction has appeared on A Twist of Noir, Shotgun Honey, Powder Burn Flash, ThugLit and Luna Station Quarterly. Her most recent book of short stories, 12 Nights of Christmas, is now available. She lives in Los Angeles and sees way too many movies about zombie apocalypsi.