Friday, March 6, 2009 - 1:28 PM

Some people reading here may not have seen the original installments that began the world of 'Customs' in my head. I'll put up a few as samples, starting with the one that started it all. Note that none of these posts are in the Customs book that I'm working on. These events take place -after- the story told in the book itself.

The narrow hall was clogged with bodies and carry-on bags, sprawled haphazardly in front of the open plane door. Colin and Margaret were there already; he was carefully examining the eyes of one of the corpses, and I could see her inside the plane, quietly talking to someone in the hunched posture of shock.

"What the hell," I said.

Colin looked up, dark and ordinary, badges slung over his shoulder like an eccentric tie, and sighed. "No wounds. No marks. They just died on the spot. I don't know why at this point. Did security catch anything?"

To my eye, the bodies looked like they'd just collapsed where they stood, disembarking. Something must have triggered the creature. "No," I answered, after a moment, scratching at my chin. "I spotted it in the crowd, but I touched its arm, and pain blacked me out."

He stood slowly, brushing at his slacks, furrowing his brow. "How did you know? Margaret can't get anything out of the survivors. They just heard screaming, and then people started running... well, except these."

I peered at the bodies, faces locked into immobile terror. For supernatural murder, this was pretty clean, but for some reason that bothered me more than werewolf mauling or zombie gnawing. "I was pushing through the crowd, trying to get here," I replied. "I got stuck a moment, and there was this woman nearby. I happened to notice the reflections in her eyes... I think it was the lights."

Colin's bland face melted into a mask of alarm. "Oh God. They were inverted?"

I just nodded. Colin was a metaphysical pathologist, he knew what that meant, and so did I.

Everybody knows about your typical Carpathian vampire, or the problems of lycanthropic fever. Cosmopolitan magazine has ten ways to tell if your husband is seeing a vampire. Provisions were made for changeling education at public schools forty years ago, the debate over zombie laborers continues, and yet, with all this, there's still a lot creeping around that people don't believe in or don't even know about.

Sometimes, they're better off not knowing.

In 1920, there was a mass exodus from Manila of a very tricky sort of creature that fed on human flesh. They looked human, acted human, and worse, seemed capable of being in two places at once. Fortunately, they had a severe allergy to lime juice, of all things. However, the research that turned up this fact also produced a lot of other information that made most nations close their borders to most of Indonesia, and this was the beginning of a global law. In 1946, the global standards of security to prevent supernatural or preternatural breaches were set up, and delineated certain areas as supernatural danger zones, forbidding anyone but qualified experts access or egress.

I am one of those experts, and ninety percent of Indonesia is one of those areas.

"And it got out?" Colin was looking pale. "Do you really think its an aswang?"

"Yes," I said, frowning at the dead bodies. "And maybe. Information is inconsistent and sometimes outright false on these things... and we think there's what, like seven breeds of Indonesian vampire?"

He nodded slowly, and Margaret finally came out of the plane, all calm business. "Ok, Colin, team's got the other hatches open, they're getting people out now... hi, Reed, figured you'd be here... sorry, but no one seems to know anything useful. When the fear wears off, they might remember something. Oh, I found this, by the way, one of the passengers had it. He's dead. I'll send the passenger information and effects to your office."

She stepped over the bodies like she did that sort of thing every day, and handed me a jar of something oily and dark, with some leaves floating in it. I rolled it in my hand, noting the customs stamp on the lid.

"Singapore," said Margaret. "What protocol do you want to use?"

We'd had problems with Singapore customs officials before; minor, but troublesome enough, and nothing so potentially bad. If the aswang was the sort of creature we thought it was, it could change shape, pose as a normal human perfectly well, and it had a taste for children. Worse, we had no idea how they actually propagated, or what they were really susceptible to. It was the indication that they might be sorcerors too that particularly worried me... particularly because I had no idea how or why it had suddenly killed so many people.

"Ok, Margaret. Lock it down. Keep the passengers isolated, inform families. Is Rachel on today? Get her to purify the gate area... and the bodies, too. Um, Colin, you do your thing, have the report to me end of today?"

He nodded somberly.

Margaret gave me her best smile, which wasn't very good. For a manikin, she was still pretty human, though. At least she tried. Some of them don't bother, and the Doll Movement was still one of the creepiest political groups I'd ever known. "I'll have transcripts for you by the same time."

I tucked the jar into my bag. "Security'll have teams out looking already, but I doubt they'll find much. See you both tonight, I've got to do some research. This just doesn't fit the profile.... oh, and keep the damn press from mentioning demons, ok?"

Colin chuckled, and started breaking out his chalk and candles, Margaret went back aboard the plane, and I strolled back out through Colin's team at the gate, heading for my office.

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