Archive for the 'All-Night One-Stop Apocalyspe Shop' Category

26
Oct
09

The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop- Conclusion

And now the conclusion to the original Apocalypse Shift story.  You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.  Next week will see the start of a brand new, never-before published story set elsewhere in the Apocalypse Shift universe.

As always, if you would like to see more of Caleb and Gloria then please check out The Apocalypse Shift, currently available at Amazon.

I hope you enjoy.

The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop- Conclusion

Hour Eight

“But we don’t have it,” Gloria said.

“And you’re the one who wants to go out there and tell them that?”

“Shit,” she said, running around the counter for her duffel bag.  “We don’t have enough stuff to take them all out.”

Caleb pressed his palms to his temples and scrunched his eyes shut.  This was the second time tonight the vamps had come to the OneStop after the Omega.  Why would they think it was here?

Gloria pulled out the spell book and flipped through it.  Her voice was growing frantic.  “Maybe we can find some sort of transformation spell?  Turn them into toadstools or used condoms or something?”

Caleb ignored Gloria’s chattering and tried to focus.  What was it exactly that the vamps had said earlier?  Something about One-Eyed Bobby saying the thing they wanted would be here tonight.  But that didn’t necessarily mean the item was here yet when the vamps had shown up.

Gloria tossed the spell book aside in disgust and went back to rummaging in the bag.  “Well, god damn it, are you just going to stand there or are you going to help me?  There’s got to be something else we can use against them.”

Bobby was almost always right, so unless he had been deliberately trying to throw the vamps off, and Caleb was sure he was too much of a business man to do something like that, then at some point during the night the Omega had ended up somewhere in the store.  The only delivery tonight had been the doughnuts, and Caleb didn’t think that crullers were likely to be world-destroying mystical artifacts.  There had to be something he was missing, something one of the customers had brought in…

“Shit,” Gloria said as she threw up her hands.  “We’re fucking screwed!  Only a few stakes, not enough holy water.  Why don’t either of us carry knives or swords or something, huh?”

An image popped in Caleb’s head of Athena, completely decked out with her cloak and fake daggers and one somewhat realistic looking sword.

“Oh, hell,” Caleb said.  “Athena!”

“Would you just forget about her for one fucking second!  She’s dead, just like we’re going to be if you don’t help me figure something out!”

“Quick,” Caleb said.  “Did Athena have her sword with her when she left?”

“Huh?  I don’t… I can’t remember.  Why?”

“Gloria,” he said, grabbing her by the shoulders.  “Don’t you remember?  She called it Meg!”

“Yeah, so?”  Then her mouth dropped open as it dawned on her.  “Meg…”

“Omega,” Caleb said, nodding.

“I don’t remember her having it with her when she left the bathroom, now that I think of it.”

Caleb ran to the bathroom door, pulling the key from his pocket as he went.  There, leaning against the wall next to the toilet where Athena had forgotten it, was her broadsword and its scabbard.

Caleb brought it out of the bathroom, took it from the scabbard, and held it up where Gloria could see.  He hadn’t really gotten a good look at it before, but now that he did he didn’t know how he could have mistaken it for false.  The hilt was a gleaming gold color but was much too strong to really be made of actual gold.  The double-edged blade was finely polished and carefully sharpened.  The Greek symbol for omega was etched into the blade near the hilt, and the handle had other markings that appeared to be some sort of writing.  Caleb had seen it before but couldn’t translate it off the top of his head.

“Gloria, there’s a book in my duffle bag on translating ancient language.”  She found the book and joined him on the other side of the counter.  Caleb flipped through the book, trying to find the markings.  “Come on, what is it?  Cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, ancient Greek?  None of this is right.”

Gloria glanced over her shoulder at the front door, then at Caleb, then back over her shoulder.  “Come on, come on.  Sounds like the spook squad’s getting restless out there.”

“It’s no use,” Caleb said.  “Whatever this is, it’s not in here.  But I know I’ve seen it somewhere.”

Gloria looked down at the sword, then took it from him and turned it around.  “Uh, try it now.”

Caleb’s cheeks flushed.  It was in English.  He’d been holding it upside down.  “Smartass.”

“Better than being a dumbass.”  They both looked down at the inscription and read it silently.

He who thrusts this blade into the Earth shall control it.

“And that’s where our Apocalypse comes in,” Caleb said.

“Someone just up and sold this to Athena?  And she never read the inscription?  And where the hell did this thing come from?  None of this makes any sense!”

“Welcome to the OneStop.  Logic does not apply here.”

“Okay, so now what?  What’s the plan?”

“We keep the vamps from getting it.”

“Thank you, oh brilliant military strategist.  Any thought on how?”

“We start by hiding it where no one would think to look.”  He walked down the canned goods aisle and, after making sure the shelf was long enough to actually conceal the sword, hid it behind the dusty cans of Spam.

“And then?”

“Then we take out as many of the vamps as we can.  Don’t even give me that look.  I know we’re outnumbered.  All we need to do is hold them off for about a half hour until the sun rises.  We can do it.”

“Or we can each become a buffet.  There’s no way this is going to work.”

“Well it’s not like you’re a fountain of ideas here.”  He grabbed his duffel bag, this time making sure the zipper was already open.  Gloria did the same and they both went to the door.

“We both stay near the door,” he said, “no matter what happens.  Back door doesn’t open from the outside, so this is the only way in.  If any vamp gets past us you go in after it while I try to hold the door, got it?”

Gloria smiled and nodded.

“What’s so funny?” Caleb asked.

“Whatever happened to the whole ‘this isn’t a game’ thing?”

“What do you mean?”

“That look on your face when you were giving orders.  You’re enjoying this.”  She stepped out the door and Caleb stared flabbergasted after her.

“I am not,” he said, then followed her

*          *          *

The sky had gone from black to deep blue.  Every neighborhood beastie with any sense had already returned to its grave, crypt, or crack house by now.  The thirty or so vamps around the parking lot seemed to be the sole exception.  There were definitely fewer vamps now than there had been a few minutes ago.  Either some had bugged out with the approaching sun or they were hiding nearby.

Gloria saw this at the same time he did.  “The roof,” she whispered out of the side of her mouth, and Caleb nodded.

“And around the sides of the building,” he said.  He slung the duffel bag by its strap over his head and shoulder.  Gloria did the same, and they both pulled out stakes. 

The better-dressed vamp walked out in front of the others.  “You know, you can’t help but hear stories around here,” he said.  “Vampires, ghouls, all manner of monsters whisper about this store like it’s hell.”

“Well,” Caleb said, “I’d have to say that I agree with them.  Especially if they’ve tried the nachos.  That chili can make your ass do the Mambo for a week.”

“I’ve always had to laugh at their stories,” the vamp said.  “The idea that anyone would be afraid of convenience store clerks.  But now that I’ve been keeping my eye on you two all night, well, I just have to laugh even harder.”

“Okay, fine,” Gloria said.  “If you’ve finished with the clichéd super-villain taunting shit can you just skip to the part where you tell us your entire plan before we ruin it and then kill you?”

“There isn’t a plan, really.  My vamps kill you, I take the Omega, I win.”

“Yeah well, you’d need to find it first,” Caleb said.

The vamp shrugged.  “It’s behind the Spam.”

Both Caleb and Gloria’s mouths dropped open.

“The door is made of glass, you dickheads,” the vamp said.  “I saw everything you were doing.”

Gloria turned to Caleb.  “Remind me to kick your ass later.”

“Me?  It’s your screw up just as much as it is mine.”

“You’re the one that always tries to be the fucking brains of the operation!  You treat me like some sort of lackey that always has to do your bidding.”

“Well maybe if you…”  He was interrupted when all the vamps in the parking lot rushed them.  Caleb sidestepped as one dove for him and planted a stake in its back as it passed.  “…if you did your share of the work I might give you some of the credit.”

“Oh, don’t you even start this shit again,” Gloria said as she grabbed a bottle of holy water from Caleb’s bag.  “I’ve got half a mind to just say fuck you and let you take on the Razorblade Smile Squad all by your lonesome.”  She chucked the bottle at the nearest vamps.  The bottle shattered, but other than a few small lacerations from the glass the vamps looked unharmed.

“What the…?  Why didn’t it work?” she asked.

“You grabbed the Buddhist holy water.”

“Buddhist?”  She planted a stake into a vampire’s eye.  “Who the fuck ever heard of a Buddhist vampire?”

“Fuck you.  I’ve run into them before.”  Caleb staked a vamp moving towards him, then whirled and took out one going for Gloria.

“You dickhead!  I totally had that one.  And I don’t believe you.”  She grabbed another bottle from Caleb’s bag, this time stopping long enough to check the label, then threw it at a small group of vamps.  It busted on one’s chest and misted the others.  They all immediately started to smolder and howl in pain.

“Stop using all my damn holy water!  And you did not have that vamp, he was about to bite you.  And you don’t believe me on what?”  About ten vamps dropped down from overhead and several more rushed from around the corner.  Caleb and Gloria instinctively turned back to back to face them all at once.

“Oh, so now you’re hogging the holy water?  I did too have that vamp, you’re just trying to hog all the glory.  And I mean Buddhist vamps.  They just plain don’t exist.”  Gloria’s stake splintered as she shoved it into the nearest vamp.  She ducked the fist of another long enough to spin, take a stake form Caleb’s bag, and then go back to fighting.

“God damn it, now you’re stealing my stakes, too!  And they do too exist.  That holy water has saved my life on several occasions.  And what do you mean, hog the glory?  There’s no glory here.”

“Great, so now you’re going to sit there and fight me about…”  Gloria shoved a stake into one more vampire, and then the parking lot was empty.  “Wait.  What was it we were fighting about?”

Caleb let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding and surveyed the parking lot.  “Beats me.  You lost me somewhere back at Buddhist glory pigs.  I was just still arguing out of reflex.  That can’t be all of them, can it?  Seems like they should have put up more of a fight.”

Gloria turned and looked at the door.  Their plan to stay by the door had lasted all of two seconds into the fight.  They were now a good ten feet away form it, but Caleb could see no movement from inside.  “I’ve got a better question,” Gloria said.  “Why didn’t any of them try to go in after the sword?”

Caleb set his duffel bag down, opened the door, and knelt to get a closer look at the floor.  One of the vamps had tried to go in after it.  A thin dusting of ash covered the threshold and tattered clothing lay in a heap.  “Weird,” Caleb said.  “It’s just like before.  I don’t get it.”

Gloria shook her head as she glared at the discarded clothes strewn around the parking lot.  “Shit.  We need to clean all this up before the boss gets here.”  She stepped over to the nearest pile and started to pick it up, then paused as she examined a dingy shirt.  “Hey, Caleb.  You killed the head vamp, right?”

Caleb had been on his way to grab a broom, then stopped and looked back out the door at her.  “I thought you did.”

“I thought you did,” Gloria said.  They both paused long enough for their eyes to grow wide.  There was a blur of movement from above Gloria as the head vamp dropped from the roof.  Caleb couldn’t help but stand in horror as the vamp’s arm shot around her neck and squeezed her to his body.  He was sure the vamp would rip her head clean off, but once the vamp had her he stopped.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” the vamp said.  “The whole damsel-in-distress thing.  There’s just something about the classic villain ploys that never get old.  Probably because the heroes are too stupid to watch for them.”  The vamp looked at Gloria and seemed confused when he didn’t see the fear he had expected.  To Caleb it looked more like she was annoyed.

“Don’t hurt her,” Caleb said.

“I bet you’re really enjoying this right now,” Gloria said.  “Get to act the hero, save the girl.  So typical of you.”

“Wait a second, are calling me a chauvinist?”

“Just calling it like I see it.”

“Hey, I’m not the one holding you hostage here!  Why am I the chauvinist while he gets off scott free?”

“Because he’s the villain.  He’s supposed to be a dick.  But you’re the one sitting over there having fun.”

“I am not!”

“Just shut the hell up, both of you,” the vamp said.  “Jesus, do you two act like this every time you try to save the world?  It’s a wonder the planet hasn’t been reduced to rubble by now.”  The vamp sighed, used the hand not holding Gloria’s neck to smooth his hair, and seemed to regain his composure.  “Alright, now that you two idiots have that out of your systems, I hope, I think you already know what I’m going to say.  If you don’t want me to kill the girl then you better give me the Omega.”

Caleb felt for his duffel bag, then remembered it was sitting on the concrete next to Gloria and the vamp.  He couldn’t just give up the sword, but he didn’t have anything with which to save Gloria, either.  As soon as he thought this he had to resist the urge to smack himself in the forehead.  Of course he still had a weapon.

“Fine.  You want the sword…”  He went back to the Spam and pulled out the sword, holding it in a fighting stance.  He whirled to where the vamp could see him and was confused for a moment when the vamp smiled.  Gloria looked down at the ash just inside the door.

“No, don’t!” she screamed, but he was already finishing his sentence.

“…then come in and get it.”

With his smile growing, the vamp tossed Gloria aside and stepped through the door.  Gloria, rubbing her throat, struggled to stand from the concrete where she’d landed.

“You idiot,” she said.  “He couldn’t come in!  A vamp can’t enter a home unless he’s invited.”

Caleb frowned.  “But… this isn’t a home.  It’s a public place.”

“And how much time do you actually spend here?” the vamp asked.  “Eight hours a day?  Maybe sometimes as much as twelve?  Like it or not, this is just as much your home as the place where you actually live.”  He stepped over the dusted vamp, over Darla’s body, and towards Caleb.  “Not much for housekeeping, are you?  It’s amazing that a pig sty like this is still in business.”

Caleb raised the sword a little higher as the vamp came closer.  “Go ahead and talk shit all you want.  I’m still the one with the sword.”

The vamp slapped the sword from Caleb’s hands.  It slid across the floor and came to a rest next to the magazine rack.  The vamp smiled and cocked his head at Caleb.

“Uh… crap,” Caleb said.

The vamp leapt at him and Caleb tried to back away, but the vamp crashed against him before he could get far.  Caleb fell to his back with the vamp kneeling on his chest.  “You know what’s going to be even better than ruling the entire world?  Having every undead creature on the face of the planet bow down to me?  Feasting off humans like a buffet?  It’s the respect.  It’s the look they will give me when they find out I’m the one who killed the Butcher of 13th and Pearl.”

Caleb fought the vamp’s weight for enough breath to speak.  “Who the hell is that?”

The vamp blinked.  “It’s you.”

“Really?  They call me that?”

The vamp rolled his eyes, then bent, mouth open, for Caleb’s neck.  If he saw Caleb’s eyes flick in the direction of the door he made nothing of it.

“Wait,” Caleb said.  “Just hold on, please.  At least tell me what religion you are.”

The vamp cocked his head quizzically.  “None.  I’ve always been an atheist.  Why?”

“Oh fuck.”  Caleb jerked himself out from under the vamp just as a bottle of holy water smashed against the vamp’s head.  Instantly the skin on his face started to hiss and bubble.  The vamp turned to see Gloria before him, Caleb’s duffel bag over her shoulder and the Omega in her hands.

“This is where I’m supposed to have some clever quip,” Gloria said.  With one swipe the Omega sheered the vamp’s head from his body, which sailed through the air and turned to dust before it hit the floor.  “But I am way too tired for that shit right now.”

Gloria set the sword on the counter and helped Caleb to his feet.  “Now you really can’t say that I’ve never saved your life.”

Caleb dusted the remains of the vamp off his uniform.  “You didn’t save jack.  I so could have taken him.”  He smiled as Gloria reared back like she was about to hit him.  “Kidding.  I was almost a blood bank.  Thank you.”

“That’s all I wanted.”

Caleb scratched his head and looked away for a moment, then looked at her with a single raised eyebrow.  “You know, this is the part where the hero and heroine traditionally kiss.”

Gloria smiled coyly and stepped closer.  With their bodies less than an inch apart, Gloria spoke into his ear.  “I probably should have told you this a long time ago…”  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “…but your breath is really bad. It would be like kissing a dead raccoon.”  As Caleb stared at her with his mouth open she turned away, and only then did they realize Big Maggie, the boss, was standing in the doorway.

She looked at Caleb and Gloria, then at the empty piles of dusty clothes, then at Darla’s dead body, then at the un-mopped floor.  Out of everything, her gaze stayed on the dirty floor the longest.  Then, with much apparent effort, she looked back at Caleb and Gloria.

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t fire you both.”

Caleb almost said Because we just saved the world, but he didn’t think she would buy it.

Overtime

When Caleb stopped to think about it, it made perfect sense.  At the darkest part of the night the police special squad would be the busiest.  They wouldn’t be quick until the sun had started to rise and all the beasties had gone under for the day.  The law would be under pressure to clean up the few messes left before the rest of the world woke and realized life wasn’t as rational as it should be.  The cleanup crew had all the dead bodies gone with only minutes to spare before the sun peaked over the horizon.

Trying to get the boss to accept what had happened took much longer.  Figuring there was no cover story they could concoct that would be convincing enough, Caleb and Gloria, along with the help of the special squad’s on-call counselor, had simply told her the truth.  There was no telling how long it would take for her to accept what happened at her store when she wasn’t around, but at least it didn’t appear they would be fired.

That, however, did not mean that the mess was excused.  They spent the next hour getting rid of the dusty clothing and trying to clean the floor without the benefit of a mop.  Finally the boss just said the first shift would have to take care of it later when they got a new mop.  Both Caleb and Gloria stuck around long enough to see the expressions on the faces of the first-shifters when they saw the new chasm in the back room, then left.

Once they were outside, they both stopped in the parking lot to bask in the early-morning sunlight.  “You know,” Caleb said.  “All in all it was a pretty quiet night.”

“Almost to the point of being boring,” Gloria said.  “At least there weren’t any sort of flying lizards.  Once they get into the bathroom you can’t get them out.”

“I’ve got to remember to rip One-Eyed Bobby a new one tonight for helping the vamps.”

“Don’t be too hard on him.  His predictions were spot on.”

“Fine.  After I’m finished pounding his ass I’ll make sure to leave him a tip.”

Gloria started to walk in the direction of 13th Street, then turned back.  “I almost forgot to ask you.  That bottle I smashed against the lead vamp.  It was marked ‘Atheist Holy Water.’  Atheist holy water?”

“Hydrochloric acid.”

“Ah.”  She nodded and started to leave again.  Caleb cleared his throat and she stopped to look back at him.

“So, uh, are you really quitting?” he asked.

Gloria bit her lip.  “I’m not sure yet.  If you come in tonight and I’m not here, then I guess the answer is yes.”

“’Cuz you know you were a big help.”

Gloria smiled.  “Dost mine ears deceiveth me?  I thought I just heard a compliment.”

“Yeah, well, I’d appreciate it if you don’t let that get around.”

“You realize my number’s listed, right?  Even if I don’t come in, you’ve got a comrade in arms just a phone call away.”

“Does that mean we can get together sometime for a drink?”

Gloria grimaced.  “You know, for a second there I was almost beginning to tolerate you.”  She adjusted her duffel bag on her shoulder, then disappeared down 13th Street.

Caleb made one last check of his own duffel bag, then slung it over one shoulder and the Omega’s scabbard over the other.  He had the perfect place to hang it at home in his bathroom with all his other world-destroying artifacts.  Whistling tunelessly, Caleb started down Pearl Street.

(c) 2007 Derek J. Goodman

19
Oct
09

The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop, Part 2

The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop – Part 2

Hour Four

It wasn’t the weekend, it wasn’t a holiday, and it wasn’t even quite time for the after-bar rush, so the OneStop had no business being this busy.  Caleb had hoped to clear the line within minutes then shut down the store, but the customers just kept coming.  It wasn’t the normal late night munchies they were buying, either.  Darla must have already spread the word of the impending doom, since everyone was buying unperishable items like canned foods and Ho-Hos.  At one point Caleb had to break up a fight over the last can opener.  In the end the two combatants simply came to the conclusion that they didn’t need a can opener, since they could both just use the horns on their heads.

There wasn’t a lull in the customers until about 1:30, but by that time Caleb had begun to think that maybe Athena wasn’t going to show.  Maybe Darla had been wrong.  Caleb had almost made himself believe that by the time she came.

Caleb was in the back room working on tomorrow’s doughnut order when Gloria poked her head through the door.  “There’s a woman asking for you out front.  If it’s Athena, I’ll never stop making fun of you for as long as I live.”

“What does she look like?”

“Pretty hefty.  Black hair.  Dressed weird even for here.”

“Fuck.  Why didn’t you just tell her I’d gone home sick or something?”

“Screw that shit.  I’m not going to lie to the customers for you.  What the hell’s the big deal, anyway?  She looks completely harmless.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not the one who used to date her.”

Caleb stalked out of the back room before Gloria could start laughing.  Athena had taken her moment alone to grab the biggest cup available in which to empty the Froztee machine.  There had always been something about her that Caleb had found pretty, but whatever it had been Caleb couldn’t for the life of him find it now.  Her hair, which looked like it hadn’t been washed in over a week, was pulled back in a sweaty ponytail and her face looked like she’d washed it with bacon grease.  Even with these things she would have been completely unremarkable in this section of the city if it wasn’t for her cloak and weapons.  The dingy brown cloak thankfully hid most of her ample body like a curtain, leaving only enough room at the front to see the small assortment of fake daggers hanging at her belt.  A broadsword hung at her back, but that was probably fake like the daggers.

“God damn it, Athena.  What the fuck are you doing here?”

Athena turned and smiled at him.  Maybe it was the smile that he’d been attracted to.  There was just something about the way her small, Twizzler-red lips would part ever so slightly and show the barest hint of her teeth.  It made her seem cute and innocent.  Only a handful of people knew she was really a raving psycho. 

“Last time I checked,” she said, “this was a public store.”  She turned to him so quickly that half her Froztee slushed over the cup’s top and splushed to the floor.  She looked at the half-full cup, shrugged, then refilled the missing half with a different flavor.

“And last I checked,” Caleb said, “you promised you weren’t going to do this anymore.  I think by now this legally counts as stalking.”

“I have a right to be here.  I just want a Froztee and nachos.  I’m not here because of you.”

“Athena.”  Caleb’s voice dropped a little, and he chose his words carefully.  “There are one hundred and thirty-one OneStops in this city.  It’s an hour walk from your place to here.  Don’t try to tell me you just dropped in.”

Athena put a lid on her Froztee and set it on the counter.  “Get over yourself.  I was in the neighborhood because I was buying a sword.”  She cocked a thumb at the broadsword on her back.  “Wanna see it?  I call it Meg.”

“No, I don’t want to see it, and don’t even try to tell me that’s why you’re here.”

“Whatever.  Do you have the key to the bathroom?”  Caleb pulled the key from his pocket and handed it to her.  He watched her disappear into the bathroom, then turned and almost slipped in the melting Froztee slush on the floor.

“Graceful,” Gloria said, and Caleb looked up to see her leaning in the back room’s doorway.  “Your supreme sense of balance is right up there with your golden way with women.”  She walked up next to him and leaned against the Froztee machine.  “I don’t get it.  I mean, she doesn’t seem that bad.  What is she, some sort of vamp hunter?”

“This week I think she’s a ranger,” he said.  “Last week she was probably an orc, next week she’ll probably be a dwarf.”

Gloria frowned at the bathroom door.  “She’s a shapeshifter?”

“Nope, she’s a dungeon master.  As in Dungeons and Dragons.”

“I don’t get it.”

“She’s a mundy that’s lost in fantasy land.  She doesn’t even know what sort of things hang out on the Hill.”

Gloria’s eyes widened as she looked at the door again, then leaned closer to him and whispered.  “So the whole getup, the knives and the sword…”

The bathroom door opened and they both stopped talking.  Athena stepped out with her cloak under her arm and gave them both a long hard look.  “So what’s the deal?  You two going out now or something?”

Gloria’s eyes widened.  “What?  Uh… no… there’s nothing… uh…”  Caleb smiled at her reaction.  Neither one of them had ever said anything even remotely romantic to each other, but the idea of dating Gloria had occurred to Caleb on several occasions.  She’d never struck him as the type that would go out with him, though.  He was positive that if he ever asked, he would hear the magic words “I think of you like a brother.”  Every time he asked a girl out she would say that, and immediately he would begin to feel dirty, like she really was his sister and he’d just proposed incest.  But with the way she was stammering, could it be possible that he’d been misreading her signals?

He forced the entire train of thought out of his mind and brought his concentration back to Athena.  “No, we’re not,” he said, “and it wouldn’t be any of your business even if we were.”

Athena threw her cloak back on her shoulders and refastened the clasp.  “Well, I was just asking.  No need to throw a hissy.”

“I’m not throwing a fit.  This has got to stop.”

“Fine.  If that’s the way you want it, I’m gone.”  Without a further word Athena grabbed her Froztee and left.  Caleb was so relieved she was gone that he didn’t realize until too late that she hadn’t paid for the Froztee.

“Now you see why I like this job so much?” Caleb said.  “Ghouls, ghosts, and rotting things I can deal with.  It’s role players I can’t handle.”

Hours Five and Six

Last call at all the local bars was between two and two-thirty, so that was always the single busiest time of the night.  Both Gloria and Caleb had to man the registers as wave after wave of drunk customers, some living and some dead and many in various states between, came for their after-bar munchies.  At one point Gloria was forced to stop what she was doing and tried to shoo away poltergeists when merchandise was flying off the shelves, but mostly the rush went without any major mishaps.  The only real problem was the earthquake just before three.

Gloria was just taking care of the last customer in line and Caleb was putting out the freshly delivered doughnuts when it happened.  Caleb stared at one of the long johns, licking his lips.  At first he thought the low rumble was just his stomach growling, then the screaming started.

“What the hell is that?” Gloria asked.  The customer in front of her looked around the store frantically as if the noise were coming from somewhere inside, then slapped a palm to his forehead.

“Shit,” he said.  “They started the sacrifice without me!”  The man ran out the front door without his purchases, leaving Gloria to stare after him.

“Sacrifice?” she asked Caleb.

“Remember the Cthulhu-related disturbance?  This must be it.”  Caleb cocked his ear and listened to the screaming.  It sounded like it was outside somewhere pretty close.  The noise was shrill, but not that loud.  “Sounds like some cultists are sacrificing a hundred virgins.”

Gloria gaped at him for a moment, then grabbed her duffel bag and started for the door.  “Well, what are you waiting for?  We’ve got to stop them.”

Caleb caught her arm and smiled.  “When I said a hundred virgins I didn’t mean human virgins.”  He chuckled, and Gloria pulled her arm away from him with a scowl on her face.  “It’s sort of hard to find virgins nowadays, especially in this neighborhood, so most of the local cultists have taken to using guinea pigs.  They still haven’t figured out yet how many it takes to appease the Great Old Ones, so they keep trying more and more.  As far as I’ve heard, Cthulhu just gets pissed and eats the cultists.”

“Then why the hell do they even try to summon him?”

“Well, if you worship Cthulhu you really aren’t that bright to begin with.”

The shakes continued for several minutes.  A couple jars ended up falling off the shelves and shattering.  Caleb mumbled about how much he was going to have to mop up tonight until he went into the back room and found the mop and bucket gone.  The quake had opened up a crack in the floor, swallowing them both.

“That’s going to be hard to explain to the boss,” Gloria said as Caleb took a roll of paper towels off its shelf and started to clean up the broken jars.

“Not as bad as the time a customer tried to conjure Yog-Sothoth into the freezer case.  It was nasty.  I couldn’t tell the tentacles from the pudding pops.”

“Uck.”  Gloria paused and leaned on the counter, her eyes narrowed over a somewhat disturbing grin.  “So you haven’t told me yet what the whole deal is between you and this Athena chick.”

Caleb kept his back to her as he tossed the towels into the garbage.  If he let her see any stray emotion on his face he would never hear the end of it.  “I really think we should stick to the problem at hand.  We only have, like, two hours before the world ends.”

“And most of the events have already happened before we could do anything about them.  If we’re going to stop it, we’re going to have to do it while it’s supposed to be happening, whether we like it or not.  So don’t change the subject.  Tell me about your girl.”

“She’s not my girl and there’s nothing to tell.  She’s a little psycho, so I dumped her.  She gets so into that role-playing stuff that she doesn’t even have a grip on reality sometimes.  She thinks it’s real.”

“Um, hello?  You work at the corner store from hell.  That role-playing stuff is real.”

“Yeah, but she’s never been exposed to any of this.  It’s all a game to her, kind of like it is with…”  Caleb trailed off and attempted to cover the silence by rearranging the salsa.

“Wait,” Gloria said.  “You think this is a game to me.”

“Did I say that?  I didn’t say that.”

“You were about to, you prick.”  Startled, Caleb looked up at her.  She stood straight with her hands on her hips.  “Don’t you dare try to accuse me of not taking this all seriously.  I’m just as good at this whole thing as you.”

Caleb went up to the counter and stared her straight in the eye.  “Of course you are.  You come in here and after one month you’ve seen it all, haven’t you?  Nothing fazes you, huh?”  Caleb noticed his voice rising, but he made no attempt to control it.

  Gloria blinked and leaned towards him, her face only inches away from his.  Her voice was more controlled, but only barely.  “And just where the hell do you think you would be if I up and quit right now, hmm?  How would you stop the end of the world then?”

“The same way I’ve always done it!” Caleb yelled.  “Every month they give me someone new to work with, and every month it’s the exact same damn thing.”  He began to count on his fingers.  “Daryl was eaten by a were-snake.  Harold quit.  Erin was vaporized by a fire demon.  Jessica quit.  Roger quit and then accidentally staked himself.  I never expected you to be any different.  If you can’t hack the life, then just get the hell out!”

“Can’t hack the life?  What the fuck do you think this is, the army?  You are a convenience store clerk.  You are at the bottom of the shit-pile!  In the grand scheme of things you mean absolutely dick!  So you slay a few vamps, close a few dimensional rips, beat back a few elder gods.  So fucking what!  Haven’t you actually seen where we are?  Anybody from this neighborhood could do this.  You are not special.  You’re just like everyone else.”

She stopped to catch her breath and for a moment looked like she was about to say more, then her entire body relaxed.  Caleb was too stunned to respond at first.  When he did, he wasn’t able to manage much more than a whisper.  “Fuck you.  This store would collapse without me, sometimes literally.  You’re just jealous…”

“Of what?” she said, her voice much more patient now like she was talking to a confused child.  “You’re superior skill at fighting the beasties?  Come on.  We could both be eaten this very instant and nobody would care except for the people who’d come in right away to steal shit.  We are nothing.  We can be replaced.  If we’re not going to enjoy it then why even bother doing it?”

Caleb tried to hold his gaze to hers, but her eyes were too unwavering, too confident.  Caleb dropped his head.  “Bullshit.  You’re full of crap just like everyone else.”

Gloria threw her hands up in the air.  “Fine.  You know what?  That’s it.  I’m going to help you finish out the night and then I’m gone.  I don’t need to take this shit.”  She grabbed one of the inventory clipboards and stalked over to the walk-in cooler, slamming the door shut behind her.

Hour Seven

This was always the slow part of the night.  The bar rush was over and the morning rush to work wouldn’t begin until about six.  The only people likely to be out for the next hour or so would be the insomniacs and the walking dead on their way back to their graves.  It was the best time to actually get work done, but there wasn’t much left.  Gloria and Caleb, in their attempts to do absolutely anything rather than talk to each other, had finished the few chores that still needed doing within fifteen minutes of their fight.  The only thing left undone was the floor.  It was completely filthy again, but Caleb wasn’t about to try fishing the mop from the abyss in the back room.  The boss was just going to have to practice her bitching today.

While Gloria sat in the back room smoking a cigarette, Caleb kept a vigil at his register, watching the clock tick off the minutes until Doomsday.  There were more important things to worry about right now other than Gloria’s temper tantrum, but his mind kept wandering back to her anyway.  He’d thought of this whole thing as a game as well when he had started.  Exploring the darkest secrets of the world had been fun.  He’d enjoyed the job because it hadn’t felt like a job.  Being a convenience store clerk had felt coincidental compared to his self-appointed title of beastie-basher.  Night after night he’d faced the creatures of his childhood fantasies, and he’d thought that would be enough.  That was before he realized that no matter how many monsters he fought and killed, the boss, completely clueless about the nighttime activities at her store, would still find things to complain about come morning. 

Gloria didn’t understand that yet.  She never would, either, if she followed through on her threat.  That was just fine by Caleb.  Everyone left him eventually.  Caleb had just hoped that for once it would be different.

His thoughts were interrupted when the door opened and Darla stumbled in.  Her dress was torn in several places and her wig was gone completely.  Her hands had the stretched look of a werewolf who’d tried to change before the full moon.

“Holy shit,” Caleb said as he ran around the counter and let Darla lean on his shoulder.  Gloria stepped out of the back room with her arms crossed, the concern evident on her face despite her attempt to continue looking peeved.  “What happened?”

“I’m sorry, man,” Darla said.  “I’m so sorry.  I couldn’t stop them.”

Caleb looked to Gloria, then back to Darla.  “Stop what?”

“I found some vamps.  Followed them, hoping I could figure out what they wanted in the neighborhood.”  Darla looked away from Caleb’s gaze.  “If I’d known who they were after, I’d have thumped their asses as soon as I saw them.  I was too far away to stop it.”

Caleb grabbed Darla and shook him.  “Stop with the cryptic shit already.  What’s going on?”

“The vamps killed Athena.”

Caleb froze.  His fingers went numb and Darla was able to pull herself away.  Gloria rushed to them.  “When did this happen?” she asked.  “And why were they specifically looking for her?  If they needed to feed why not just kill the first person they found?”

“It wasn’t even half an hour ago, I think.  I passed out for a couple of minutes after they kicked the shit out of me, so I’m not sure.”  For the first time Darla seemed to notice that her dress was ruined and took a moment to frown down at it before she continued.  “I overheard them ask her something about the Omega.  She didn’t seem to know what they were talking about.”  Caleb backed away from them and leaned onto the counter for support.  His knees shook and his feet felt as numb as his hands.

“The Omega,” Gloria said.  “What the flying fuck is that?”

“I heard a couple of other people mention it after I left here.  I think it’s the mystical thingy the vamps are after.”

“But why would they think Athena had it?  She didn’t know jack about that sort of thing, did she?”

“As far as I know.  I didn’t really get a chance to ask them, since at that point I was too busy having my face stomped in.”

Moisture started to roll down Caleb’s cheek, and finally his legs gave out from under him.  As he slid down the side of the counter into a crouching position, Gloria finally took notice and crouched next to him, her face scrunched up in confusion.

“Caleb?”

“No,” Caleb muttered through his tears.  “No, she can’t be dead.  No.”

Gloria looked up to Darla, who turned away as if to say that this wasn’t her conversation, then looked back to Caleb.  “I’m sorry, Caleb, I don’t understand.  I thought you hated her.”

Caleb buried his face in his hands.  “It was supposed to protect her.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Gloria tentatively put a hand on his shoulder.  “I don’t understand.  What are you talking about?”

Caleb looked up at her.  “You saw her.  She was always in her own little world.  If she ever found out about the sort of world I lived in…well, it would have just been another role-playing game to her.  She would have run off and done something stupid.”  He wiped the tears away from his cheek and sniffed.  “Don’t you see?  I broke up with her to keep her safe.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

Gloria helped him up.  “I… I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.  I wish…”

“Don’t say anything.  Just don’t, alright?”  He turned away from her and went to lean against the back room doorway.  Gloria stared at him for a second, then looked to Darla.

“We don’t have much time.  It’s almost five.  We need to find out what and where this Omega thing is.  Can you see what you can find?”

Darla gave a mocking salute then turned and went out the door.  Gloria watched her go, then turned to Caleb.

“Caleb?  Caleb, listen to me.  I’m sorry about Athena.  And I’m sorry about our argument before.  I guess I may have been…”

“Right,” Caleb said.  “You were right.  I’m not really anything.  Just a clerk with delusions of adequacy.”

“You can save the fucking guilt trip for later,” Gloria said.  “The Apocalypse is within the next hour and we still don’t…”

The front door slammed open and Darla came flying through, her body limp with a shiny silver stake buried in her chest.  The body slid to a halt in front of Gloria, her eyes wide and her hands covering her mouth.  Caleb rushed to the body and checked for a pulse, but there wasn’t one.  The dress was slashed to ribbons right beneath the stake, and Caleb moved the shredded fabric aside to see something carved on her stomach.  Gloria went to the door and peered out, then ducked her head back in.

“Caleb.  Outside.”

Caleb stood next to her and looked out.  A handful of bodies littered the parking lot, most likely people who’d made the mistake of trying to come in for coffee before work.  Grubby and shabbily dressed vampires surrounded the parking lot.  Caleb guessed there had to be about fifty of them.  One of them, the only one who didn’t look like he’d pulled his clothing from a compost pile, stood slightly beyond the others.  His head was cocked to the side in an expression of mild interest, a small smile on his face.

Caleb ducked back in and turned to Gloria.  “That’s a lot of vamps.”

“No shit, Sherlock.  What the hell do they want?”

Caleb pointed to the exposed part of Darla’s stomach.  A message was carved neatly into the flesh in very careful handwriting:

Give me the Omega.  NOW.

To Be Concluded

And don’t forget to check out The Apocalypse Shift, available at Amazon!

((c)2007 Derek J. Goodman)

14
Oct
09

Introduction, and The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop, Part 1

Welcome to Tales From the Apocalypse Shift.  This is the official site where you can find all the supplemental stories related to the Apocalypse Shift universe.  I will be posting new content here every week.  The stories here will range widely from tales about the main characters from the Apocalypse Shift novel, to the side characters, to stories that simply take place in the same universe and offer clues to the greater story arc.  If you are at all unfamiliar with the Apocalypse Shift, you can purchase the novel at Amazon.

For the first week I’ll be posting the very first Apocalypse Shift story, which was originally published at Revolution SF, and will soon be appearing in the upcoming Permuted Press anthology Best New Tales of the Apocalypse.  It’ll be appearing in three parts.  For anyone who has never read anything to do with the Apocalypse Shift, this will be a perfect primer.  Future stories, however, will be mostly original content that will be unique to this site.

Thank you for reading!

-Derek J. Goodman

 The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop, Part 1

Hour One

Caleb had gotten into the habit of taking out the garbage within the first hour of his shift, although that was just an excuse to go out behind the store. The assistant manager always left before sundown and the manager wouldn’t be in until just before Caleb left, so there was no one to question him other than Gloria, and she never had a problem with what he did.  The management would frown on the knowledge that illicit transactions went on in the back alley after sunset, especially if they knew one of the employees was involved.  They never stuck around for the graveyard shift, so they wouldn’t understand why Caleb needed to do this.  It was a different world at night, and they would never let themselves know that.  Gloria, however, knew damn well that Caleb’s transactions helped the night run smoother, and when she could she chipped in a few bucks so Caleb wasn’t paying for it all by himself.

The back alley behind the OneStop Mart had a smell different from any other place in the city, especially at this time of year when the temperature didn’t drop below eighty all night.  Some of the smells were not unique, and Caleb was sure those smells could be found anywhere in the city’s rougher sections, especially here on the Hill.  The odor of rancid, sun-baked garbage and fermenting piss assailed his nostrils, but there was one smell that overpowered it all, an old, familiar smell that Caleb had come to enjoy, even look forward to.  It was the smell of incense, old and musty.  It was the smell of One-Eyed Bobby.

Caleb threw the not-so-full garbage bags into the dumpster and waited.  The sodium lights along the store’s back wall cast just enough light for Caleb to see a shadow protruding from the other side of the dumpster.

“Caleb, you dumbass,” a voice said.  “You just going to stand there waiting to be mugged or you going to come around and say hi?”

Caleb stepped around to the other side.  One-Eyed Bobby sat there cross-legged, his dingy, baggy clothes hiding all but the most basic body shape and his sunglasses hiding empty eye sockets.

“You know, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you,” Caleb said.  “Why the hell do they call you One-Eyed Bobby if you don’t have any eyes?”

“There’s more than one way of seeing, my friend.”

“I knew you would respond with something cheesy like that.”

“Then why’d you ask, dipshit?  I can be all mysterious and clichéd if I damn well want.  Do you want a reading or not?”

Caleb pulled out a ten and handed it to him.  “Let’s just start with a customer overview.”  One-Eyed Bobby’s hand disappeared into the folds of his clothes and came out with a deck of Tarot cards.  Actually, it might have started out its life as a deck of Tarot cards, but several cards had gone missing over the years and Bobby had seen fit to replace them with playing cards, the kind with pictures of naked women on them, and Pokemon cards.  Bobby gave the cards a shuffle, then pulled several cards out at random and laid them down before him: the ten of swords, the six of breasts, the fool, and Jigglypuff.

“Uh, doesn’t look like a very good night for you, my friend,” Bobby said.  Caleb silently waved an experimental hand between One-Eyed Bobby’s face and the cards, and Bobby slapped the hand away.  “Knock it off, asshole.  Do you want to hear this or not?”

Caleb nodded, then, when Bobby didn’t make any show that he’d seen it in any way, he answered aloud.  “Sorry.  Go on.”

“As I was saying, looks like you’ll have vampires, werewolves, heroes, and even an Elder God.  And that doesn’t even look like the half of it.”

“Crap,” Caleb said.  “Why can’t I ever just have a quiet night, huh?”  He pulled out another ten and gave it to Bobby.  “Better give me an hour by hour overview.”

Bobby swept the first four cards aside, then drew eight more, explaining each as he set it down.  “In hour one you’ll get some bad news.”  Bobby smiled.  “That would probably be me.  In hour two several of your customers will be eaten.  In hour three you will receive valuable information.  In hour four an old acquaintance will stop by and annoy the ever-loving piss out of you.  In hour five there will be a mild Cthulhu-related disturbance, nothing to get in a tizzy over.  In hour six there’ll be a fight, but not the sort you’re used to.  In hour seven you will mourn.  In hour eight…”  Bobby stopped and leaned close to the last card as though inspecting it for flaws.  “Aw hell.”

Caleb knew that reaction well.  “Oh, come on.  Please don’t say what I think you’re going to say.”

 Bobby shrugged.  “Sorry, friend, but in the eighth hour the world will end.”

“Shit!” Caleb said.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!  Tell me you’re kidding me.”

“You know I don’t joke about my readings.”

“But this is the fourth apocalypse I’ve had to deal with in the last two months.  Just how many times do the gods expect me to save the world, anyway?”  Caleb gave a wordless cry of frustration, then took a deep breath.  “Fine.  Can you at least give me a heads up on how it’s going to happen?”

One-Eyed Bobby pulled three more cards and laid them across the last card drawn, then frowned.  “Sorry, I don’t see any specifics.  All I can tell you is that it is directly related to two of the other events.  That’s all the cards tell me.”  Bobby’s dour expression disappeared and he smiled up at Caleb.  “Don’t look so pissed.  It’s not like this isn’t something you haven’t handled before.  I have faith in you.”

“Gee, thanks, I feel soooo much better.”

“You better get going,” Bobby said.  “You got a busy night ahead of you.”

“Right,” Caleb said.  He started back towards the propped-open rear door, then paused and turned back to Bobby.  “Hey man, I was just wondering one more thing…”

One-Eyed Bobby and his cards were gone.

“Dickhead,” Caleb mumbled, then went back inside.

Hour Two

“Again?” Gloria said.  Her voice was loud enough to make several of the customers in line jump.  But that was only the non-regulars, mundies who were new to this area or were just passing through without realizing what section of the city they were in.  The two regulars in line, Caleb noted, were trying to hold back from laughing.  Oh yeah, Caleb thought, the apocalypse is really funny when you’re not the one who has to stop it.

“How is this even possible?” Gloria asked as she rang up a customer’s purchases.  “This is, like, the fourth one in…”

“In two months.  Yeah, I know.”  The line had started to back up while Caleb told her what Bobby had said, so he took his place at his register and called for the next in line, a mundy.  Caleb scanned her Slim Jims while she gave both the cashiers a funny look.  Once the customer left Gloria managed to give Caleb a feeble smile. 

“We probably shouldn’t talk about this in front of the customers,” she said.  “One of the mundies might think we’re crazy.”

“Of course we’re crazy,” Caleb said.  “We work here, don’t we?”  Nonetheless, Caleb stopped talking for the moment.  The regular customers were used to this sort of thing.  There was even a This-Is-The-Day-The-World-Ends party every other Friday at the Club McPhisto down the street.  But the mundies, those who were blissfully ignorant of the goings-on of the Hill, were probably better off not knowing this could be the last night of their lives.

There were, however, only three customers in the store at the moment, all of them regulars.  The next guy in line, a short, grubby little man who was always trying to sell Caleb stolen goods like radios, bikes, or the still-beating hearts of virgins, came up to the register with a stale doughnut.  “Wait a sec,” he said.  “Did you say something about customers being eaten?”

“In hour two,” Caleb said.  At once the remaining three customers looked at the clock on the wall.  Eleven o’six.

It took Caleb fifteen minutes to clean up the mess the customers made in their hasty retreat out the door.  All their intended purchases had been dropped on the floor, spilling cans of soda, crushing bags of pretzels underfoot, and squirting the custard filling from doughnuts onto the displays.  Gloria stayed behind the counter and did the cigarette inventory while Caleb mopped it all up. 

“Might as well just mop the whole floor right now,” Gloria said.  “Doesn’t sound like we’re going to have time to later.”

“All right, lets just think about all this for a moment,” Caleb said as he slopped water onto the floor.  “What supplies did you bring tonight?”

“Only the basic stuff.”  She went into the back room and came out with her duffle bag, which she set on the counter and unzipped.  She held several of its contents up for him to see: wooden stakes, silver stakes, a few bags of various herbs, a basic spell book, other odds and ends.  “Nothing we can really use to stop the apocalypse.”

“We can’t really be sure of that.  Bobby wasn’t specific on what exactly would happen.”  He stopped mopping for a second and stared at the puddle of water on the floor.  “I hope it’s not another cult trying to suck the world into Hell again.  That one took a lot out of me.”

“No more man-eating toads, either,” Gloria said.  “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat frog legs again after that one.”  She placed the duffel bag under the counter where she could easily reach it, then turned back to the cigarettes.  Caleb watched her for a moment.  He’d been working the graveyard shift (or the Apocalypse Shift, as he had come to call it) at the OneStop Mart for over a year now, but it had taken him time to adjust to the freakish happenings.  Gloria, however, had only been working here for a month, yet took it all in stride.  This had baffled Caleb at first, especially when she’d professed to never before knowing about these sorts of things.  The only explanation he could find was her day job as a stripper.  When you were used to dirty old men leering at you on a regular basis, Caleb supposed zombies and demons and whatnot weren’t so bad.

“Okay,” Gloria said as Caleb started mopping again.  “Way I figure, this time should be easier than the others.”

“And the logic behind this would be…?”

“Normally we have to wait until whatever’s going to cause the Armageddon is breathing down our necks before we can stop it.  But One-Eyed Bobby said it was related to two of the other events he predicted, right?  So all we have to do is stop one of the two events…”

“…and the apocalypse won’t be able to happen.”  Caleb wrung out the mop and wheeled the bucket back to its place.  It was sort of sloppily done, but still better than he usually did.  “We wouldn’t have to wait until the last minute.  Great plan, except one problem.  We don’t know which two events are important.”

“Then we stop whatever we can.  Even if we only stop one, there’s a one in eight chance that it’s the right one.”

“Actually it would be more like a two in seven chance.  You can’t count the apocalypse itself when calculating the…”

“Whatever.  You know what I mean.”

“Right.”  Caleb looked at the clock again.  11:18.  “It’s too late to stop the first event, so on to number two: customers for dinner.”

“That’s simple enough.  Just close the store until twelve.  If we’re not open for business, then no customers.  No customers, no snack time for the beasties.”

“We can’t close the store.  Big Maggie would have our heads.”

“Priorities, man.  End of the world versus ass-chewing.  Besides, how the hell would she even know?  It’s not like she can check the security tape.”

She had a point.  There was a security camera hanging from the ceiling, but no one bothered to load it with videotape anymore because all it ever recorded was a white haze.  A witch who lived nearby and had the ability to vaguely see spirits once told Caleb that it was because something was haunting it.  He’d tried to contact the spirit with a Ouija board, but it hadn’t answered.  It wasn’t until Caleb had accidentally broken open a box of Alpha-Bits in the back room and the little cereal letters had told him to fuck off that he could communicate with it.  The ghost still wouldn’t tell him why the hell it chose to haunt a security camera, but he nonetheless kept an open box of the cereal around just in case he needed to communicate.  He normally avoided that, though, since over half the ghost’s vocabulary consisted of creative names for body parts between the waist and knees.

Caleb emptied the mop water in the back room, then brought his own goody bag out front and double-checked its contents.  There wasn’t much difference between his bag and Gloria’s, except he also had vials of holy water from seven different religions.  It was one of the lesser-known facts about the beasties that religious tools only worked on them if that monster believed in that particular religion.  A cross would only work on a Christian-raised vampire, a pentagram only worked on a vamp who’d been a pagan in life, and so on.  He always made sure his bag was stocked for almost anything.

Caleb set the bag down next to Gloria’s and looked around the empty store.  “You know, something doesn’t seem quite right here.  Shouldn’t the bar crowd be starting to filter in by now?”

“Yeah, I was wondering that, too.  We haven’t had any for, like, the last twenty…” 

She stopped and turned to Caleb, a look of horror on her face.  Caleb’s brow furrowed in confusion for a moment, then he understood.  “Oh crap,” he muttered, then grabbed his duffel bag, ran around the counter, and out the front door with Gloria in tow.

The fluorescent lights just outside the door gave the blood splattered in the parking lot an odd tint, making it appear more greenish than red.  The bodies of the last three customers were tossed in a heap off to the side, each one with gaping holes where their jugulars had once been.  The rest of the parking lot was empty, as were the surrounding sidewalks and streets.  Gloria stepped a little closer to the bodies, careful not to let her Nike knock-offs touch the blood.  She looked at the wounds in their necks, then pulled a stake from her duffel bag and set the bag down.

“Where the hell is everybody?” she asked.  She held her stake at the ready in front of her, but there was no movement anywhere around them.  The vamps that had done this were probably already gone, but Caleb had enough experience to know never to assume anything.

“Somebody must have had a word up that there were vamps in the area,” Caleb said, “and anybody else with half a brain would have seen the empty streets and ducked for cover.”

Gloria wrinkled her nose at the dead bodies.  “You think that’ll be all then?”

“Three bodies feed three vamps.  Unless there’s more than three, they’re probably done for the …”  A single drop of blood fell from above and landed on Gloria’s shoulder.  They both looked up to four sets of fangs leering at them from the roof. 

“Get inside!” Caleb screamed.  Gloria had barely started pushing the door open when the first vamp swung over the edge and slammed into her feet first.  The impact slammed the door open and sent Gloria sailing through with the vamp practically on top of her.  Caleb frantically tried to unzip his duffel bag as two more jumped from the roof and landed five feet from him.  They were both dressed in tattered army surplus clothes and had the unpleasant reek like they hadn’t bathed in a few millennia.  Almost all vamps smelled bad, but these two stank.  The odor was foul enough that Caleb had to step back from it and tripped over the limp arm of one of the customers.  Pain raced up through him as he landed flat on his back.  One of the vamps straddled Caleb’s prone body and stooped down. 

“Where is it?” the vamp asked.  His breath smelled like rotting hamburger, and Caleb had to fight to keep himself from gagging.

“Where’s what?”

“We know you have it.  The blind man told us it would be here tonight.”

“I don’t have the faintest…”

Before Caleb could finish his sentence a wooden stake plowed through the vamp’s chest from behind.  Caleb scooted out from underneath as the vamp turned ashen-gray and started to crumble.  When the vamp was nothing more than dust and dirty clothing, Gloria pulled her stake from the mess and offered Caleb a hand up.

“What about the other vamps?” Caleb asked.

“Second one put up a little bit of a fight, but the first one for some reason turned to dust as soon as it was inside.  I think it actually fell on my stake.  Dumbass.”

“God damn it.  Now I’m going to have to mop the floor again.”

*          *          *

Gloria had to stand at the door with a stake in case the fourth vamp showed back up while Caleb placed the call to emergency services.  He didn’t call 911, though.  This was a job for the other emergency number, the one the neighborhood cops had given him soon after he’d started here.  He’d had to use it sixteen times since then, and every time it seemed like it took the cops more time to arrive.

“If you are calling because you are about to be sacrificed to a demon,” the automated voice droned in his ear, “please press one.”

“So what happened to the other vamp?” Caleb asked Gloria.  “I distinctly remember four sets of sharp, pointy teeth.”

Gloria kept peeking out the glass front door, but with the inside so bright and the outside so dark it couldn’t be easy to see anything.  “Probably bugged off when he saw his compadres buy it.”

“If fairies have turned your head into that of a donkey,” the phone said, “please press three.”

“What were they even doing here?” Caleb asked.  “Most of the beasties know not to come around here unless they’re on our side.”

“Didn’t that one say we had something it wanted?  And it said something about a blind man.  Only one blind man hangs around here that I know of.”

“You think One-Eyed Bobby’s giving advice to the vamps, too?  That dick.  See if I give him cookies for Christmas this year.”

“If you are being attacked by vampires, please press nine.  If you have been turned into a newt, please mash your foot against the keypad and wait.”  Caleb pressed nine and waited as the other end started ringing again.

Gloria opened the door enough to peak her head out.  “I think I see some people coming outside down the street.  Looks like we’ve got the all-clear.”

Another recorded message picked up on the other end of the phone.  “Thank you for calling emergency vampire services.  All our operators are currently busy.  Please hang on, try to stay alive, and someone will be with you shortly.  Thank you.”

Gloria left the door, put her stake down on the counter, and leaned against it with her chin in her palm.  “You’re welcome, by the way.”

Caleb took the phone away from his ear for a moment.  “Excuse me?”

Gloria’s eyes narrowed.  Caleb couldn’t tell if she was genuinely mad or just trying to be mischievous.  “For saving your life.  You forgot to thank me.  Again.”

“Oh come on, you know I appreciate it.  And what do you mean ‘Again’?”  Caleb put the phone back to his ear as someone finally answered.  “Uh, hi.  I need to report a vamp attack at the OneStop Mart on the corner of 13th and Pearl.”

Gloria’s brow furrowed, and this time Caleb was pretty sure it was anger.  “What do you mean ‘What do you mean’?  What about last Tuesday when I saved you from those genetically-altered land-walking piranhas?  You were almost fish flakes.”

“You didn’t save me, you just annoyed them by pelting them with jars of tartar sauce.  They were no big deal, anyway,” Caleb said to her, then talked again into the phone.  “No, no, not you.  I was talking to my coworker.  We’ve got three dead bodies and at least one more vamp on the loose…”  He didn’t even notice that Gloria had stormed off into the back room until he hung up the phone.

Hour Three

The police finally arrived at shortly after twelve.  Special squad officers usually dressed like plain-clothes police, and the normal person on the street wouldn’t have known the difference.  Caleb, however, had learned to distinguish them by the telltale bulges in their clothes from hidden stakes and other odd weapons, as well as the unusual array of religious symbols hanging around their necks.  They questioned Caleb and Gloria, took a few pictures of the bodies and ash piles, and discreetly had the bodies hauled away to somewhere hidden from the mundy police.

Immediately after the cops left, the customers started to filter in.  Gloria took the counter while Caleb hooked up the hose outside and sprayed the blood from the parking lot, then went back in and refilled the mop water.  He glanced casually at Gloria as he went about his business, but she pointedly avoided his gaze.  She hadn’t even talked to him since the argument.  They’d had tiffs on the job before, but for some reason she seemed to be taking this one personally.  If it was because he hadn’t thanked her he might understand a little.  You had to be able to trust a person you worked with on the Apocalypse Shift to have your back, whether it was from unruly customers or flesh-eating corpses.  But in truth the vampire encounter hadn’t been anything he couldn’t have handled himself.  If she wanted to believe she had saved his life, she was wrong.  He couldn’t let this continue for the rest of the night, though.  There was still that teensy matter of The End Of All Things that needed to be addressed. 

Caleb took his time mopping up the remains of the vamps and waited for the line of customers to disappear so he could talk to Gloria, but they just kept coming.  They appeared at the moment to consist mostly of candy-ravers, all with a hazy, dead look in their eyes.  They were either all on something or they were all zombies.  Caleb went up to one at random and poked her in the side.  She didn’t seem to feel it.  Zombies, then.

“Some of the local clubs have been catering to the undead recently,” a voice said from behind Caleb.  “They’ll buy any drug you offer them even though they can’t feel it.  You can tell them that Midol is X and they don’t know any different.”

Caleb knew that voice well enough and turned to it with a half-smile.  At a casual glance the person standing there looked like a woman dressed for a hot night out.  The eye-catching and barely-tasteful dress drew the eye away from signs such as the Adam’s apple or overly large fingers.  Any excess hair at odd places on the woman’s body had been tweezed off, but that would only work for a few more hours.  Tonight was close enough to the full moon that all the hair would be back by morning.

“Harold!” Caleb said, then blushed at the man’s disapproving look.  “I mean Darla.  Sorry.  I’m still getting used to the new you.  I thought maybe I’d see you tonight.”

“What, did that blind fraud say I was coming?”

“Among other things.”  Darla was in here several times a week.  If One-Eyed Bobby was their most important source of information about the neighborhood, then Darla was a close second.  “So what’s going on in the streets?” Caleb asked.

“Actually, I was hoping you could tell me.  Everybody I talk to is freaking, especially when I ask what’s going on at the OneStop.”

“Well, for starters, tonight’s supposed to be the end of the world.”

“Again?  Why the hell does that shit always happen here?”

“Not my fault world-destroying beasties like to stop in for a Twinkie before ending all life as we know it.  There was also a vamp attack about an hour and a half ago.”

Darla’s ears twitched.  “Really?  Were there four of them?  Grubby like they’d been sleeping in a Port-a-Potty?”

“Yeah.  We got all but one.  How’d you know?”

“Word is some vamp leader is looking for some mystic doohickey-whatsitz.  Has his gophers roaming the Hill in packs of four.  If one got away he’s probably still out there waiting to see what you’ll do with it.”

“But we don’t have it.  What the hell is it even supposed to be?”

“Not a clue.”  Darla stopped and grinned.  “There’s something else you should know.  Athena’s in the neighborhood.”

“Shit!” Caleb said loud enough to make Gloria jump.  Even a few of the zombies looked over their shoulders.  “Are you sure?”

“Saw her with my own eyes.  That was about fifteen minutes ago.  Looked like she was on her way this direction.”

“Crap on a stick.  In just how many ways can this night suck?”

Darla bought a Pepsi and went on his way.  Caleb put away the mop and joined Gloria behind the counter.

“We’ve got to hurry up and get these customers out of here,” he said to her.  “If Athena’s on her way we need to close the store, lock the doors, make it look like nobody’s here.”

“I’ve never seen you this nervous before,” Gloria said.  “Who’s Athena?”

“The worst creature on the face of the planet.”

“Really?”  Gloria said, barely able to hide her glee.  “Some sort of demon?”

“Something like that.  There’s no word for what Athena is.  Now are you going to stop chattering and help me take care of the customers, or not?”

Gloria stopped talking and turned away, but not, he noticed, without a quick glare.

To Be Continued

(All content on this site is (c) Derek J. Goodman)