11
Jan
10

The Power Pastry

Hello again everyone.  Today’s story, “The Power Pastry,” is one of the rare stories on this site that has already appeared elsewhere, having previously been published in the zine Space Squid in 2006.

If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to check out the Apocalypse Shift novel, currently available at Amazon.  I highly suggest that any loyal readers of this blog who haven’t read the book yet should, as the Tales From the Apocalypse Shift book is just over the horizon and you may want to catch up.  Who knows, Apocalypse Shift 2 might even be in the works soon…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

-Derek J. Goodman

The Power Pastry

 

            Caleb leaned closer on the counter and tried to stare into the zombie’s eyes (or rather just the left one, since her right eye had mostly been eaten away by maggots).  “Look, I can’t say this in simple enough words: you don’t have enough money.”

            The zombie blinked several times, then once again pushed her change and Slim Jim closer to him.

            “A quarter,” Caleb said.  His voice was starting to become a shout, but it didn’t much matter to him.  There were no other customers in the OneStop Mart to hear him, and he doubted the zombie was going to come back later and complain to his boss about customer service.  “You are still a quarter short.”

            The zombie blinked again, and this time she reached into the pockets of her moldering jeans.  Caleb breathed a sigh of relief, but his anger returned in force when all she added to the stack on the counter was a button, a year-old scratch-off lottery ticket, and a dried-up condom that she had probably used just before she died.  Judging by the worm-eaten, hot pink shirt she was wearing, that had probably been some time in the eighties.

            “Ew!  Phil, can I get a little help over here?”

            Phil had been checking the cigarette shipment against the invoice, but he stopped long enough to look at the collection on the counter and wrinkle his nose.  “Uck.  Just let her have the damned Slim Jim.  She’s dripping pus all over the floor and I don’t want to have to mop yet.”

            Caleb sighed and handed her the Slim Jim.  “Here.  Now go away.”

            The zombie eyed the Slim Jim for a moment and then took a bite out of the middle, plastic wrapper and all.

            “Not in here!” Caleb said.  He ran around the corner and started pushing her out the door.  She didn’t fight him, but neither did she really seem to notice.  She was too busy making satisfied noises from deep in her throat as she sucked on the Slim Jim.  Caleb opened the door and shoved her out.  She stumbled into the parking lot and disappeared somewhere into the night’s shadows.

            “Little bit rude, don’t you think?” Phil said.

            Caleb didn’t say anything.  When he’d shoved the zombie girl he’d gotten her rotting flesh all over his hands.  He could try wiping them off on his OneStop smock, but there was no telling what sort of magical properties the goo had.  Whatever had animated the girl might very well animate his smock, and it wouldn’t be very pleasant if he had to spend the rest of his shift locked in a death duel with his own clothing.

            “I’m going to go into the back room and wash up.  Watch the register for me?”
            Phil grunted something that sounded vaguely affirmative, and Caleb went into the back room.  Phil was a nice enough guy, he guessed, and he was certainly more than capable of handling all the oddities that came along with working the Apocalypse Shift, but Caleb still couldn’t help but wish he was a better conversationalist.  Gloria, the only other third shift employee who’d worked here for longer than a month, had perhaps been a little too vocal, but Caleb missed her anyway.  At least she had only quit.  Many people who worked nights here at the OneStop Mart on Thirteenth and Pearl left because they were in body bags.  Eaten by monsters, sacrificed to Elder Gods, impaled on your own stake, these were the occupational hazards here, but at least the pay sucked.

            Caleb stepped around the fissure that had been opened in the back room floor by a customer’s ill-fated attempt to raise Cthulhu and washed his hands in the sink, carefully making sure not to get zombie-muck on the just-rinsed coffee pots.  Just lately he had started to look back on his early days at the OneStop Mart with a certain fondness.  He hadn’t realized when he’d taken the job that once the sun went down this part of the city became home to numerous dark and weird magics, and he’d spent his first month of selling Twinkies and Froztees to demons and vampires and cultists (oh my) in a state of fear and exhilaration.  There had even been times when it had all seemed like too much, such as the first couple of times he’d had to stop an apocalypse.  Now it was just another job.  He may have been selling midnight snacks to the damned and undead, but it turned out that the damned and undead were just as rude of customers as anyone else.

            By the time Caleb came back out of the back room the bakery truck had arrived and the deliveryman was wheeling in the day’s supply of doughnuts.  There was still no one else in the store, and it would probably remain this dead (a pun Caleb had tired of quickly but couldn’t keep himself from using) until just before sunrise when the last of the night critters would stop for last minute rations before hiding yet again from the waking world.

            “Hey,” the deliveryman said.  “You realize you’ve got a zombie walking around in your parking lot?”

            Caleb sighed.  “She didn’t try to eat your brains, did she?”

            The deliveryman shook his head, and Caleb waved a dismissive hand.  “Leave her alone, then.  I think she just likes to hang around here because she has a crush on Phil.”

            Phil glared at him.  “Screw you.  Can zombies even have crushes?”

            Caleb shrugged.  He signed for the delivery, took the invoice from the deliveryman, and started to check the doughnuts in as the deliveryman left.  Other than a sound from the parking lot of the delivery truck beeping its horn at the zombie to get out of the way, there was no other noise as Caleb and Phil went about their duties.  Caleb daydreamed about all the things he’d rather be doing (playing video games was chief among them, and he had to chide himself for being so damned boring) as he went through the doughnut racks and put them in the doughnut case, but he stopped when he got to the third rack from the bottom.

            “Um, Phil?  Want to come take a look at this?”

            Phil came around the corner to join him and they both stared for several moments in silence.  The contents of the rack were pretty standard: five long johns, four apple fritters, eight macadamia nut cookies, and six crullers.  The only problem was that one of the crullers was glowing a bright green.

            “Well, what do you think?” Caleb asked.

            “I think that cruller is glowing.”

            “No shit, Sherlock.  Any idea why?”

            “Maybe it’s irradiated.  Baked in a nuclear reactor or something.”

            Caleb was about to say that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard, but in truth he had heard and seen much dumber in his time at OneStop.  It was even possible that Phil’s explanation was one hundred-percent correct.

            “Maybe the invoice says something about it,” Phil said.

            Caleb had to seriously doubt it, but thumbed through the pages of the invoice anyway.  To his mild surprise the answer was right there near the top of page 3:

            Item     #                      Description                              Quantity

            654-1356                     Bismarck, crème-filled                        5

            661-8095                     Long John, custard-filled                  5

           666-6666                      Mystically Imbued Cruller,

                                                        banana                                                     1

            “Huh,” Phil said.  “That’s weird.”

            “Yeah, I know,” Caleb said.  “Who’s ever heard of a banana cruller?”

            “I was talking about the whole ‘mystically imbued’ part.”

            “Sure, but can we really say that’s any weirder than anything else around here?”

            “Well, I guess not.  So what are we going to do with it?”

            “What do you mean?  It’s a doughnut, the store is paying for it, so we sell it.”

            “You don’t think it’s a little irresponsible to sell a magic doughnut?”

            “No more irresponsible than selling Spam.”

            They both had shudder at that thought.  Phil went back to his own chores as Caleb put the cruller in the case with the rest of the doughnuts, along with the little tag that had come with shipment saying “Mystically Imbued Cruller: $.79.”

            “You know the funny thing?” Caleb said.  “I’m the one who did the doughnut order yesterday, but I sure as hell don’t remember ordering that.”

            “Maybe it’s a brand new product they’re trying out,” Phil said.  “Maybe we’re, like, the test store for it or something.”

            Caleb shrugged.  “Or maybe after I sent the order through the computer someone hacked into it?”

            “Now who the hell would hack a doughnut order?”

            Caleb didn’t have any answer for that, so he finished checking in the doughnuts in silence.

            For the next half hour the only customer they had in the store was a stoned-looking were-chipmunk.  Caleb couldn’t blame him for getting high.  If Caleb turned into a chipmunk every full moon then he would want to escape reality, too.  This guy was about as harmless as the customers could be around here, but nevertheless Caleb kept an eye on the guy for entire time Phil was ringing him up.  Both Caleb and Phil kept duffel bags under the counter full of stakes, holy water, spell books, and any other essential items to use against any unruly monsters in case they tried to shoplift and/or destroy the world.  Just in case the were-munk lost control of his blood lust and tried to gnaw on Phil, Caleb pulled a silver acorn quietly from the bag, but the guy seemed barely able to stand up, let alone go on a bloody chipmunk rampage.

            “Hey, just so you know, man,” the were-munk said as Phil put his purchases in a bag.  “There’s some zombie-chick wandering around in your parking lot.  She keeps trying to say something over and over.  Something like ‘bill’ or ‘mill.’  You really should get rid of her.  She’s really drawing down the vibe.”

            Caleb managed to stay silent until the were-munk had left.  “Phil.  She’s trying to say Phil.  See?  I told you she had a crush on…”

            “Excuse me, gentlemen?”  Caleb hadn’t even noticed anyone else had entered the store until he heard the new customer speak.  “If I may have a moment of your time?”

            Caleb tried to repress the sudden scream that tried rising up in his throat, although he wasn’t entirely successful.  At least he managed to keep his mouth closed so the noise only came out as no more than a squeak.  Phil raised an eyebrow at him.  “Dude, are you all right?”  Caleb just gestured at the customer standing just inside the front door as though that was supposed to explain his reaction.  Phil and the customer exchanged glances, and the customer shrugged.

            “I’m sorry, have I been the source of some sudden consternation here?” the customer asked.

            Phil shrugged back, then looked at Caleb.  “Caleb, he’s only a clown.”

            The clown looked towards Caleb with his hands folded in front of him and his head cocked quizzically to the side.  He had on the typical white make-up and red nose, as well as a massive red afro-wig wide enough that he probably had to squish it in slightly when walking through most doors.  His pants had a waist that looked like a hula-hoop and needed to be held up by a pair of shocking-bright yellow suspenders.  In all the time Caleb had been working here, he hadn’t seen anything else quite this horrifying.

            “I hate clowns,” Caleb said.

            “Excuse me?” Phil said.  “You have no trouble facing off against the weirdest monsters on a nightly basis, but you’re scared of clowns?”

            “That’s right.  Demons I’ll deal with, clowns I’ll stay away from.  What, you don’t have any phobias?”

            “Well, I do have this weird relationship with cottage cheese…”

            The clown had been listening calmly to their conversation as though he wasn’t even there, but now he smiled, or at least Caleb thought he was smiling.  It was hard to tell when he already had a smile painted to his face in bright red.

            “Gentleman, I’m afraid you are mistaken.  I am not a clown.  I am indeed a demon.”

            “Oh yeah?” Caleb said.  “Prove it.”

            The clown stuck out his tongue.  It was forked and about a foot long.  The air around him suddenly reeked of sulfur.

            “That doesn’t prove anything,” Caleb said.  “I’ve seen clowns do plenty more demonic things than that.  Like juggle.  If that’s not a power only given out by Satan, then I don’t know what is.”

            “Caleb, stop it,” Phil said.  “He’s a customer.”

            Caleb shut up, then joined Phil behind the counter just so that there was something between him and the clown demon, who had become too preoccupied with the magazine rack and a copy of Better Homes and Gardens to pay either of them much attention.  Phil lowered his voice so their customer wouldn’t hear them.  “That’s really ridiculous, you know that, right?”

            Caleb stood straight and scowled at him.  “Please just drop it, okay?”

            The zombie woman entered the store again, pausing just long enough to smile at Phil (or at lest the best attempt at a smile she could without most of her lips) and then started roaming the store.

            “I told you,” Caleb said.

            “Stop with that.  It’s getting old.”

            “Only if you stop giving me crap about clowns.”

            They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence that was only broken by a whoop of delight from the clown demon.  He had abandoned his reading and was now standing in front of the doughnut case, carefully removing the magic cruller as though he was afraid he might break it.

            “I can’t believe they actually delivered it.”  He turned to Caleb and Phil and gave them that crazy double smile again.  “This cruller is special.  Did you know that it’s banana flavored?”

            “You sound like you knew it was here,” Caleb said.

            “Of course I did.  That’s because I’m the one who ordered it.  I hacked into your doughnut order.”

            Caleb smirked at Phil.  “See?  I told you.”

            Phil glared at him, then looked back to the clown demon.  “Okay, so maybe you can tell us what’s so mystical about it.”

            The clown wrapped the glowing cruller in tissue paper, put it in a plastic doughnut bag, and set it on the counter.  “When I eat it I’ll gain the power to take over the world.”

            Phil’s eyes widened.  “They actually make something like that at the bakery?”

            The clown shrugged.  “Only the bakery that sells to you guys.  It’s built on an ancient Indian burial ground.”

            “That’s ‘ancient Native-American burial ground,’” Phil said.  “Just because you’re taking over the world doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect other cultures.”

            “My apologies,” the clown demon said.  He pulled change from somewhere and set them on the counter.

            “Uh-uh,” Caleb said, and pushed the quarters back towards him.  “I can’t sell you that.”

            The clown demon tugged the bag close to his chest.  “I saw something I wished to purchase and I gave you the money for it.  You have no right to deny me service.”

            “Sure I do.”  Caleb leaned under the counter and started rummaging around in his duffel bag for something to threaten him with, but he couldn’t figure out just what to use.  Clown demons weren’t exactly a common threat.  “I’ll be damned if I let a clown take over the world.”  He came back up with a small crossbow only to see that the clown demon had already taken out the doughnut and taken a bite out of it.  His afro started to glow a bright green.

            “That’s a prejudice against clowns and I don’t have to take it,” the clown demon said, and with one hand still holding the cruller he pointed his free hand at Caleb and Phil.  A greenish bolt of lightning shot out of his fingers and zapped them.  Both of them had to screech a little as they felt like a vice had suddenly squeezed every organ inside their bodies.  “Besides, it’s not like I’m really going to do anything too nasty once I take over the world.  Probably just remake it in my own image.”

            A world of clowns.  Caleb tried to let out a war cry and shoot the clown with the crossbow, but with a flick of his wrist the clown sent Caleb flying across the store towards the freezer case.  He crashed into the glass door and heard it crack under his weight, although it didn’t actually shatter.  That wasn’t much comfort.  Ever since the store manager had found out about the sort of things that went on after dark at her store she kept emergency funds set aside for “bizarre repairs,” but some the money for the door would still inevitably come out of his paycheck.

            The clown demon was still saying something to Phil up front, but Caleb didn’t quite catch it.  He was too busy looking up at the zombie girl standing over him and looking vaguely like she wanted to take a bite out of his head.  Caleb smiled at her, then motioned for her to come closer so he could whisper something in her ear.

            Caleb stood up and watched, careful not to let the clown demon hear him.  The clown demon took another bite of the cruller, and Phil winced as the green lightning from the clown’s fingers brightened.  “Hey, could you please stop that?” Phil said.  “It’s not like I was the one who just tried to kill you.”

            The clown demon raised an eyebrow.  “You mean you would just let me walk out the door?”

            Phil shrugged.  “Well, I guess not.  It’s against store policy to let megalomaniacal clown demons destroy the world.  I could loose my job.”

            “You actually have a policy for that sort of thing?”

            Phil shrugged again.  “You’d be surprised.”  If he noticed the zombie girl approaching the demon he made no indication.

            “Well, sir,” the clown demon said.  “Thank you for chatting, but I must get going if I’m going to make the world mine before dawn.”  He twitched his fingers, and Phil grunted with a fresh tremor of pain.  The clown demon raised the last piece of cruller to his mouth.

            Then he dropped it as the zombie girl crushed the top of his skull and started to scoop out his brains.

            The clown demon made a few feeble noise of pain before falling silent, but they were mostly drowned out by the sound of the zombie chewing.  Caleb rubbed his back as he made his way back to the counter.  “I think I might have pulled something.”

            Phil barely seemed to hear him.  He was too busy staring at the happily-snacking zombie with a mixture of disgust and wonder.  “How the hell did you get her to do that?”

            “I told her that if she ate the clown’s brains then you would go out with her.”

            Phil’s eyes widened.  “Please tell me you’re kidding.”

            Caleb smiled.  “I told you she liked you.”

            Phil called the number for the Special Police Task Force to come grab the body while Caleb started mopping the floor.  A small portion of the police department knew about the sort of things that roamed this area at night, and they would come to make sure the clown demon’s body disappeared before the rest of the world woke up, but Caleb didn’t much worry about that.  It was pretty routine.  What was much more important was that the floor was spotless before the manager came in for the morning shift.  After he’d placed the call, Phil picked up the faintly glowing remains of the cruller from where the demon had dropped it.

            “So what are we going to do with this?” he asked.  “Looks like it’s still got some mojo in it.”

            The zombie looked up from the demon’s now mostly-empty skull and gave a mewling plea.

            “You really want it?” Caleb asked.  “He already took a bite.  It probably has clown slobber all over it.”

            She mewled again.

            “All right then.”  Caleb handed her the cruller.

            Phil held up his hands.  “Hold on a sec.  You aren’t really going to let her have that sort of power, are you?”

            “Don’t worry.  What could she possibly do with it?”

            The zombie had already finished off the cruller, and her entire body had taken on a green tinge.  She twitched her fingers at Phil and he grunted, but unlike with the clown this grunt wasn’t entirely one of pain.  Caleb glanced down to see a bulge suddenly forming in Phil’s pants.  The zombie looked at Phil, and if her face hadn’t been partly decomposed Caleb might have described it as a come-hither look.

            “Caleb,” Phil said, “I have to say that I really hate you.”  Caleb just smiled at him, then went back to mopping.

(c)2006 Derek Goodman

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