Archive for the 'Done-In-1 stories' Category

08
Feb
10

What to Get a Zombie For Valentine’s Day

Hello again!  Welcome to what will be the final individual story on this blog for some time.  Remember that next week I will begin serializing Old Clerks Don’t Die, They Slay Away, the sequel to The Apocalypse Shift.  If you haven’t yet, you should really check out the first book.

I hope you enjoy!

Derek J. Goodman

What to Get a Zombie For Valentine’s Day

     Phil was checking the temperatures of the hotdogs on the roller grill (and making sure they weren’t possessed by demons like they had been last night) when he heard Caleb clear his throat from behind the counter.

     “Hey Phil?  She’s coming across the parking lot.  You want to go hide?”  Caleb sounded honestly curious, even though it wasn’t really any of his damned business.  At least he had stopped giving Phil crap about this.  Just a week or two ago, Phil would have responded with a sigh and gone to hide in the back cooler until she left the store again, but he’d been starting to think about this lately.  Maybe he should be keeping an open mind here.  After all, the girl coming across the parking lot had made the trek from wherever she came from just to see him, and she did seem to be sweet.  It wasn’t her fault she was a zombie.

     “No,” Phil said.  “Maybe I’ll just hang around and see what she has to say.”

     Caleb blinked at him.  “Dude, she can’t say anything.  She doesn’t have much of a tongue anymore.”

     Phil shrugged, hoping that would be the end of the conversation, but Caleb continued to stare at him.  Caleb could be pretty cool sometimes, but other times he could just be a dickhead.  He’d been giving Phil a hard time ever since this zombie had started making return trips to the OneStop Mart, especially once it had become obvious she had a crush on Phil.  Caleb was probably unnerved that Phil was having less and less of a problem with that.

     Phil put the thermometer and temperature charts away and stood in front of the counter to look at the zombie as she shuffled toward the store.  There wasn’t a lot he knew about her, and it wasn’t like he could really ask much.  She was dressed in the same clothes as usual, an old and rotten 80’s ensemble.  So from that much he could at make a guess as to when she had died.  But otherwise she was a mystery to him. 

     The thing was, Phil couldn’t figure out when this zombie, just another one of many beasties that wandered around the Hill at night, had started to intrigue him.  She certainly wasn’t his type- his type tended to still have all their skin- and it wasn’t like he was hard pressed for companionship.  He hadn’t had a steady girlfriend for a while, but there had been a few women.  An attractive six foot black man with no visible horns, fangs, or tails had no trouble finding willing partners around here.  So why did he wonder if maybe this one was something unique?

     She made it to the door and fumbled with it, trying to get it open while her hands were full.  Phil hadn’t even realized before that she carried something.  It looked like a box, the kind someone would put shirts in, although it was pretty battered.  There was blue wrapping paper around it, but it looked like it had been wrapped by someone using only their teeth.  The paper barely even covered the box itself, and the tape on it looked like it had been put on at random, occasionally fastening the paper to the box purely by accident. 

     Phil had never held with some of the old fashioned ideas of gentlemanly conduct or chivalry.  Women these days didn’t want a man to stand up when she left the table or drape a coat across a puddle so they wouldn’t get their feet wet.  But as he saw her struggling, he couldn’t help but rush to the door and open it for her. 

     She looked up at him with her one good eye as she walked in.  She seemed surprised that he had come to help her, but then again she always looked surprised.  It was the muscle-less way her jaw tended to hang open.  Recently she’d been looking a little better (a little more recently dead, for lack of a better term), the after effects of some magic she’d been infused with, but it was starting to wear off.  Even through her pocked greenish skin and rotted features, however, Phil thought maybe she was trying to smile at him.

     “Iiiiiillll,” she said.  His name was one of the few words he ever heard out of her mouth.  She’d been dead long enough that most of the speech parts of her brain were likely gone, but she tried.  “Oooooooo.”

     “Um, Hi,” Phil said, glancing self-consciously over his shoulder at Caleb.  The other clerk did his best to go about his work without looking like he was staring at them, but Phil could see the way his eyes moved to them every so often, trying to see just what the hell was going on.  Phil wasn’t entirely sure of that himself.

     Keeping one arm around the package, the zombie reached out and touched his arm.  Before he could stop himself, Phil flinched away.  Her touch was cold, and her fingers were rough and cracked.  It didn’t feel like a hand.  More like half-thawed brown-and-serve sausages.  Briefly all those thoughts about how strange and interesting she was disappeared, replaced with a moment of primal revulsion.  Then he came back to himself enough to be embarrassed.

     The zombie, thankfully, didn’t appear to realize any of this.  She took her hand back and held out the box to him.  “Ooooooo.”

     “What are you trying to say?” he asked, staring down at the box.  “‘You?’  Are you saying this is for me?”

     That much, at least, she appeared to understand.  She nodded.  “Ooooooo.”

     Phil tentatively reached out and took the box.  It was also cold, probably from the late winter weather outside.  He had no idea how far she had come to give him this, but it must have been a long way.

     The zombie paused like she didn’t know what to do next, then turned and walked back through the door.  Phil continued to stare after her, not sure what to make of the incident.

     Caleb leaned over the counter and stared at the package.  “Dude, what was that all about?”

     “I’m not really sure,” Phil said.

     “Are you going to open it?”

     “I don’t know.  You think I should?”

     “Opening any sort of package on the Hill is dangerous.  You never know what kind of flesh-eating magic spell might pop out.”

     “Yeah, but she doesn’t look like she could come up with anything like that.  If she wanted to kill me she would just crack open my skull and scoop out the gray matter.”

     “Someone else could have put something dangerous in it and given it to her to bring to you.”

     Phil looked down at the package.  “I don’t think so.  It looks like she tried to wrap it herself.”

     “But why would she…”  Caleb trailed off, staring at the box for a moment.  “You should open it.”

     Phil shrugged.  He didn’t see why not.  He didn’t have high hopes for it, though.  If this was intended as a gift, then a zombie’s idea of an ideal gift was probably maggoty meat.  He sniffed it, but it wasn’t rancid.  There was only the faint linger of the zombie’s own putrefied flesh, which really wasn’t as bad as Phil would have suspected.

     “Okay,” Phil said.  “Wish me luck.”  He undid the wrapping paper, which was harder than he expected considering the crappy job the zombie had done, and pulled off the lid of the box.  His breath caught in his throat when he saw what was inside. 

     “Oh holy shit,” Phil said.  Caleb leaned further over the counter for a better look.

     “Let me see, let me… oh wow.  Holy Cthulhu in R’lyeh.”

     Despite the terrible state of the package, its contents had been treated with the utmost care.  A football jersey sat carefully folded in a nest of tissue paper.  That alone would have made Phil pause and think of the zombie differently.  But that wasn’t the true “holy shit” of it.

     Phil had always had a good relationship with his father, but the true moments he remembered were sitting on his dad’s lap as a young boy and staring at the television screen, cheering and screaming obscenities together as they watched his dad’s favorite team, the Cowboys.  The greatest moments of all, though, had been when Deion Sanders, Phil’s favorite player of all time, had made the perfect play at the right moment.  His dad would hug him, and Phil would hug back, and the world had seemed totally right.

     The name Sanders sat right at the top of the silver and blue jersey in the box, right above his number.  And between the name and number there was something written in Sharpie marker.  Phil had to stare at it, unable to make himself believe at first that this was indeed Sanders’ signature.

     “Is that authentic?” Caleb said.

     “I think so,” Phil said.  “I’ll have to check it against signatures on the net when I get home, but… I pretty sure that’s real.”

     “How the hell?” Caleb asked.  “Where would she get that?”

     “A better question would be how would she have known I would want this?” Phil said. 

     “Wait, don’t you remember about a month ago?” Caleb said.  “You were talking football and I was trying not to be bored out of my mind about it when she came in.  You were talking about Deion Sanders then.”

     Phil vaguely remembered that.  He hadn’t ever considered that she might actually listen to anything he said.

     “But why would she get me this anyway?” Phil asked.

     “Dude, really.  Don’t you remember what today is?”

     “No.”

     “It’s Valentine’s Day.”

     Phil looked up at him.  Caleb was right.  Neither of them had girlfriends right now, so neither of them had paid much attention to it. 

     “You know what?” Phil said.  “I think that is the single best, most thoughtful present anyone has ever given me in my entire life.”

     “So what are you going to do?”

     Phil put a hand on the jersey, caressing the fabric but making sure not to touch the signature.  “I’m going to have to figure out something just as thoughtful to give back, ain’t I?”

*    *    *

     For the next week and a half, Phil went back to hiding in the cooler anytime the zombie came by.  It became harder to make himself avoid her as the days went by, but he didn’t want to have a moment with her until he was completely prepared.  He thought he had the perfect present for her, but it had proved more complicated to prepare than he had thought.

     Finally, on a slower night where Caleb could man the store by himself and Phil could take a day off, Phil waited outside the store with a folder in hand until the zombie showed up.  She was later than usual, and he was afraid she wasn’t going to come at all that night.  Maybe she had realized he was avoiding her and taken the wrong hint from it.  He hoped that wasn’t the case.  Now more than ever, with everything he had learned, he wanted to see her.

       She didn’t show up at the OneStop until three in the morning.  That was a long time for Phil to have to wait outside, but he hadn’t wanted to wait in the store with Caleb.  Caleb had been somewhat supportive of Phil’s plan and had helped him find some contacts to help, but the guy still seemed a little squeamish.  He thought Phil might actually be considering a relationship with this zombie, and he didn’t appear completely comfortable with it.  Phil wasn’t sure if this was really going to go as far as a relationship, but he was willing to find out.

     He saw the zombie shuffle down the street and cross into the OneStop’s parking lot, but she didn’t see him until she was twenty feet away.  As soon as she did, however, her shuffle became more of a lurch.  No matter how much was still left of her brain, she at least could still feel excitement at seeing him. 

     She stopped a few feet away from him.  She made no attempt to touch him like she had last time.

     “Iiiiiilll!”

     “Um, hi,” Phil said.  “Er, how you doing tonight?”

     “Iiiiinnne.”

     “Right.  Um, would you care to take a walk with me?”  He gestured back in the direction she had come from.  He had never realized she always came from the same direction before, but he supposed that made sense.  Even a zombie had to have something resembling a home.  And now, thanks to the folder in his hand, he knew where that home was.

     The zombie did her best approximation to a smile, which really wasn’t much of a smile at all, and turned to shuffle back the way she had come.  Phil followed, staying close to her side.

     They walked in silence for several minutes before Phil got his thoughts together enough to speak.  “I wanted to thank you for the jersey.  It’s awesome.”

     The zombie looked at him.  The expression on her face either meant she was pleased or she was trying to pass gas.  It was kind of hard to tell.

     “I’m sorry I’ve been avoiding you.  But I wanted to do something special in return.  It’s taken a while, but I’ve got it now.” Phil held up the folder for her to see.  She looked at it.  Was she really curious what was inside, or was she just staring because she had nothing else to look at?  He wished he could tell for sure, but he really wanted to believe she was still capable of curiosity.  If she could still feel one emotion, then she could probably feel all of them, which in turn made her not much different than him or any other human.  She was only different on the outside.

     “Sue?” he said.  Her head moved with a speed he didn’t know she had, going from looking at the folder to looking him in the eyes.  “That is your name, isn’t it?  Susan?”

     She stopped walking, and Phil stopped with her.  They were only about a third of the way back to her home, but it didn’t really matter to him whether they got there or not.  Her home now was Leechman Park.  That damned park held many secrets, including the secret that was Sue herself, but no secret stayed hidden for long on the Hill.  There were plenty of ways to find out, if you had the connections and the money, and Phil had spent all of his savings to get the folder’s contents.  He just hoped there was enough of Sue left to appreciate them. 

     “Uuuuuueee?” Sue said.  She pointed at herself.  “Uuuuueee.”

     “That’s you,” Phil said with a nod of his head.  “Did you remember that before?”

     Sue moved her mouth but didn’t actually speak.  Maybe she had a lot to say about that, or maybe she didn’t.  Either way, Phil didn’t think she had to capacity to really discuss it.

     “It’s okay,” Phil said.  “I think I understand.  Do you remember how you died?”

     Sue paused, then nodded her head slowly.  She didn’t seem too sure. 

     “If you don’t, it’s all here,” Phil said, holding up the folder again.  “Any answers to questions you might have.  You’re death was covered up so that no one would know about…”  Sue started walking again, much faster than before, and Phil had to jog to catch up.

     “Okay, okay.  Don’t run away.  We don’t have to talk about it if it upsets you.”  Sue slowed down and looked at him again.  “That’s not really the gift, anyway,” Phil said.  “You see, I wanted to find something that would be special to you.  But I didn’t really know who you were, so first I had to find out.”  He opened the folder and read some of the information on the first page.  “Susan Emily Buchowski, born April 18th, 1960.  Died in the mid-Eighties.  And when you died, you left behind a mother and a brother.”

     Sue stopped again.  Phil really wished he could read her emotions better.  He couldn’t tell if she was angry that he was bringing this up, or if she was shocked he’d found this much, or what.

     “Um, did you want me to stop?” Phil asked.  “Because I haven’t gotten to the big part yet.”

     Sue stared.  It was like that was all she could ever do.  Maybe he was only imagining that there was more under the surface.  Maybe zombies really were just brain-dead monsters. 

     Then he looked at her one good eye.  He had no idea what it was that brought zombies back to life on the Hill, and he wasn’t sure how their bodily functions were supposed to work.  But he could see now that at least one function could still continue.  Her eye was watering up.

     “Ahhhhhhhm,” she said.  “Iiiiiannnn.”

     He wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean until he looked at the paper again.  “Oh, right.  Your mom, Genevieve, and your brother, Brian.”  He flipped through some more of the sheets.  He’d had some people on the Hill who were skilled in finding people get him all the info, but that still wasn’t the real gift here.  He just hoped he wasn’t going out of bounds.  He really had done all this to try pleasing her.  Suddenly he wondered if maybe he’d been wrong.  Maybe this was more like stalking.  “Do… do you want me to tell you whatever happened to them?”

     Sue nodded.

     “You mom, well, I’m really sorry.  She died of breast cancer in ’96.  Brian was by her side, I guess.”  He watched Sue to see if anything of this news affected her.  She didn’t show anything he could interpret as emotion, so he continued.  “She got to see two of her three grandchildren before she died, though.  You see, Brian’s now an engineer in San Francisco, happily married with two sons and a daughter.  I… I have pictures, if you want to see them?”

     She nodded again, this time more slowly.  Phil flipped to the last two items in the folder, the two things he had considered the real present.  He just hoped he wasn’t crossing the line here.

     He pulled out two photos and held them up for Sue to see.  With slow, shaking hands, she reached out and took them.  The person he’d hired had found both of them on the internet.  The first wasn’t just a photo but a newspaper article.  It showed a picture of Genevieve Buchowski, looking rather tired but still happy, and told about some of the charity work she had organized in the last years of her life.  Phil wasn’t sure if Sue could still read, but the article mentioned how Genevieve’s daughter had disappeared, and how the woman had taken her grief over the disappearance and turned it into something else.  She had done lots of work with missing person’s groups, doing everything she could to help people find their lost loved ones.  She had also volunteered at domestic abuse shelters and worked extensively with local food banks.  The article suggested that Genevieve had never been involved with any of this before Sue’s disappearance.

     The second item was a family photo.  Brian Buchowski sat in the middle, his arm around his smiling wife, with three children ranging from eighteen to ten sitting in front of him. 

     Sue didn’t move for a long time.  Phil didn’t want to do anything to disturb whatever she might be going through right now, but then he wasn’t sure she was actually going through anything.  Maybe the cold had simply frozen her undead body up.  After nearly two minutes of nothing, he reached out and touched her shoulder.

     “Sue?  Are you alright?  I’m sorry if I hurt you by showing this.  I just wanted to get you something.  I thought maybe if I showed you your family, what happened to them, how they turned out…”

     Sue moaned, and Phil pulled his hand back.  That hadn’t sounded like a good moan.  She turned to look at him.  The water in her eye had turned to tears.

     “I’m sorry if I hurt you or something, Sue,” Phil said.  “That wasn’t my intention at all.”

     Sue shook her head.  “Aaaaang… oooooo.”

     “Wait, what?”

     “Aaaaang… oooooo.”

     “Is that… thank you?”

     She moved again with that same surprising speed as when she had tried to get away.  Still keeping a tight grip on the photos, Sue flung her arms around him, hugging him tight.

     “Aaaaang… oooooo.”

     “Your welcome, Sue.  You’re welcome.”  He hugged her back.  It wasn’t until she let go that he realized he hadn’t shied away from her touch this time. 

     Something told him he wouldn’t be doing that ever again.

(c) 2010 Derek Goodman

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