Archive for the 'The Leek Shall Inherit the Earth' Category

21
Dec
09

The Leek Shall Inherit the Earth – Part 2

I apologize for missing last week’s update.  Because this story continues directly from a joke at the end of the last post, I do suggest checking out Part 1 for a quick refresher before continuing on with Part 2

I have a huge favor to ask from any readers out there.  The numbers on this blog have been extremely low, as have the sales on The Apocalypse Shift novel.  I love this universe and all the characters in it, but I also do need any and all writing income for various plans I have in the near future.  Although I dearly want to continue writing in this universe, my time often has to instead be spent writing things that can pay the bills.  If you the reader want to continue seeing Apocalypse Shift stories and novels with any regularity, I desperately need the numbers to improve.  Please, if you are enjoying these stories, consider purchasing a copy of the novel.  If you are a fan of the novel or blog, then please spread the word to others.  I know I’m not the only one who would like to see the Apocalypse Shift universe continue.

Okay, begging over.  Thank you for being patient.  I hope you enjoy this week’s installment.

Derek J. Goodman

The Leek Shall Inherit the Earth – Part 2

            “So you’re telling me she’s turning into something freakish?”

            “Seems like it.”

            “I need to just stop talking altogether,” Caleb said.

            “I do believe I was saying that since before I quit here,” Gloria said.

            It was technically time for Caleb to punch in by now, but he instead stood in the back room and paced.  Gloria watched him, occasionally looking out the door into the store.  Phil was at his register helping a customer.  He didn’t look happy that Caleb wasn’t doing his job yet, but he would just have to deal with it at the moment.  Kelly was gone by now, but Sheila was still in the store.  She and Courtney stood over by the magazine racks and talked quietly.  Caleb guessed they were hammering out the details of Courtney moving in, but if Gloria’s warning was any indication, Sheila would very shortly not want anything to do with her.

            “So you saw this in the changing room at the department store?” Caleb asked.

            “Yep,” Gloria said.  “She was trying on some clothes and I knocked on the door to give her a few more things to try on.  She’d forgotten to latch the door, and for a brief moment the door was open enough that I could see inside.”

            “And you saw leaves in her pubic hair?”

            “Sort of.  They were poking out from the underwear she’d put on.”

            “I’m not sure whether I find that image repulsive or sexy.”

            “You’re lucky you’re pacing.  If you were closer to me I’d smack you.”

            “And what did she say when you asked her about them?” Caleb asked.

            “I didn’t,” Gloria said.  “She just quietly pulled up her pants and asked about the clothes I’d brought her.  She wasn’t trying to hide them at all.  Which probably means… I don’t know.  Maybe she didn’t even realize they were there?”

            “Maybe.  They sure weren’t there when I wrapped her in toilet paper.  They probably just grew very recently.  But she would have had to notice that she’d suddenly grown…”

            “If you ever want to sleep with me again,” Gloria said, “then you’d better not be about to make a joke about a bush.”

            Caleb frowned.  “You know, considering what you do, you can sometimes be a bit of a prude.”

            “Get your mind out of the gods-damned gutter already and face what’s happening.  That poor girl is turning into one of her vegetable people.”

            Caleb sighed.  “Sorry.  You’re right.  So she’s changing now, but she wasn’t changing earlier.  Think we can assume that everything she said earlier about how this change works was true?”

            “Don’t really have any choice.  She could have been lying, I guess.  But if she hadn’t changed yet and she was telling the truth, then something doesn’t add up.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Well, she said that right about the time the leaves start to appear, the person’s mind is completely gone.  Yet she certainly doesn’t seem mindless.  A little scared, maybe, a little overwhelmed.  But completely in control of herself.”

            Caleb leaned up against a shelf full of extra toilet paper and stood for several seconds with his head bowed, thinking.  “Well,” he said, “I can think of two possibilities.  One is that her mind really is gone and she’s being controlled, and we just don’t know enough about her to see the difference.”

            “You think the vegetables from her reality can control her all the way here?”

            “Probably not.  Only if they came over to this side maybe?  Which would mean that some of her killer broccoli came over with her.”

            “But we haven’t seen any sign of that yet,” Gloria said.

            “Right, which might mean…”

            “Maybe that just because she’s infected she hasn’t actually had her mind disappear, because no veggie is pushing it aside.”

            “I don’t know,” Caleb said.  “Maybe something like that.  Can’t really say I’m too terribly familiar with vegetable mind-control techniques.  It sounds like as good a hypothesis as any.”

            “Do you think she’s contagious?” Gloria asked.

            “I don’t know.  We can’t really risk it, I guess.  We should do something.”

            “Do what?  Lock her somewhere until she starts taking root?  Caleb, we can’t do anything that will put this poor girl through any more hell than she already has been.”

            “Well, I sure as hell don’t want her going through it either, but we got to…”

            Phil came through the door and between them.  “Guys, something seems to be wrong with your plant fighter.”

            All three of them ran through the door that came out behind the counter.  Other than them, Sheila, and Courtney, there were two other customers in the store at the moment.  Both of them looked human, but neither gave Courtney a second glance as they went about their business.  Anywhere else, that would have seemed cruel and heartless, considering Courtney looked like she was having some sort of seizure while Sheila held her up to keep her from falling over.  Maybe they just figured it was part of the weirdness of the Hill.  They would be right, but Caleb still thought that was cold.

            “I don’t know what the heck happened,” Sheila said.  She was too small to continue holding Courtney up for long, but Phil ran around the counter to help lower the trembling woman to the ground.  Caleb and Gloria followed, and as they got closer Caleb realized Courtney’s skin had taken on a greenish tint.  “One moment she was talking about where she could get some cheap furniture, and then all of a sudden poof!  Spastic city!”

            Gloria grabbed one of the thicker magazines off the rack and tried to put it in Courtney’s mouth as her jaw worked open and close, nearly shredding her tongue.  Caleb started to kneel down next to Courtney, but someone tapped his shoulder.  He turned around to see the two customers, one a lady in her forties and the other a guy in his mid-twenties, standing impatiently at the counter behind him.  The woman had a bottle of soda in hand, while the guy had nothing but an armful of beef jerky.

            “Excuse me, but could we get some damn service here?” the woman asked.

            “Ma’am, we’re kind of busy here.  Maybe if you could please call…”

            “I ain’t calling jack shit until you get your ass behind the counter where you belong so I can buy my lotto tickets for tonight.”  The guy behind her rolled his eyes and tapped his foot repeatedly.

            “Yeah, and I really got to get back to my meth lab,” the guy said.  “Something might boil over while I’m gone.”

            “Are you two really fucking serious?” Caleb asked.  “That kind of attitude would be cold even for me.”

            “Hurry up!” the woman said.  “If you don’t sell me my ticket in time I won’t be able to win and retire tomorrow!”

            “Okay, you know what?” the guy said.  “Screw this.”  Pushing past the woman, Caleb, and the small crowd gathered at the floor, he ran out the front door, trailing a few packages of beef jerky as he went.

            “Seriously?” Caleb screamed after him.  He bolted out the door, almost tripping over Courtney’s twitching leg.  He heard Gloria calling his name as he went out, probably wanting to warn him not to go after the guy, but he really didn’t have time to deal with the headache of reporting the theft of beef jerky while there was a woman turning into a plant nearby.

            He came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the front walk, and his mouth dropped open.  Every day at this job was the one where he thought he had finally seen everything, and every day he was wrong.

            A trail of beef jerky bags led out into the middle of the parking lot.  The guy that had stolen them was dead, or at least well on his way to death.  He’d fallen face first to the asphalt, and he was bleeding profusely from the numerous holes in his back.  Sticking out of each hole was a sharpened stick of celery.  Five feet away from him, an eggplant was somehow holding up a mop-head.  It had to be the same mop-head from last night, because a shimmery and swirly (and most definitely wonky) portal floated above it.  And through the portal, a large number of tomatoes and onions and cucumbers were coming through.

            “Huh.  Would you look at that,” Caleb said.  Then he ran back inside.

            Gloria and Sheila were still at Courtney’s side, but Phil was backing away as the woman swatted him over the head repeatedly with her purse.  “It is your job!  Give me my motherfucking lottery tickets!”

            “Sweet Jesus, lady, what do you got in your purse, a brick?” Phil asked.

            “Just part of one.  Now get your lazy ass behind the counter!”

            “She’s seems to be coming out of it a little, but her skin…” Gloria started, but then looked up at Caleb.  “What is it?”

            “Take a look out the door,” Caleb said.  Gloria looked out the glass door, and her eyes went wide.

            “Huh.  Would you look at that.”

            “Phil,” Caleb said.  “Quit screwing around with that lady and go get any weapons you brought with you tonight.  Hope you got a salad fork or something in that stuff.”

            “Don’t you ignore me!” the lady screamed.  “This is my lucky night, I know it!  My horoscope told me it would be!”

            Gloria stood up and smacked the lady across the face, stunning her long enough to let Phil escape.  “Cut it out already,” Gloria said.  “We’ll get you your damned lottery tickets if we get out of this alive, but right now we’ve got to stop a platoon of vegetables from turning the world into their plant-like slaves.”

            “You know,” Caleb said, “I think it’s totally hot that you just said that with a straight face.”

            Phil, still keeping a watchful eye on the woman as she stared longingly at the lottery ticket machine, went behind the counter and stooped down where he kept his duffel bag full of monster-fighting weapons.  Caleb went back to the door and locked it.

            “Do you really think that’s going to do much good?” Gloria asked.  Courtney had stopped shaking, and she was moaning as Sheila tried to help her up.  “The door’s only made of glass.  Not exactly hard to get through it.”

            “They’re vegetables,” Caleb said.  “What…”  He stopped himself.

            “What?” Gloria asked.  “What were you about to say?”

            “I was going to ask what a bunch of vegetable could possibly do to get through the glass, but if I said that they would just show me exactly what…”

            A tomato smashed against the door as though someone had thrown it.  As the seeds and juice slid down the glass, Caleb could hear a distinct hissing noise. 

            “Acid,” Gloria said.  “Looks like some of them have made extra genetic modifications to themselves.”

            Another tomato smashed against the glass.  Not only was the acid eating through it, but tomato guts and damaged glass was beginning to obscure their view of the vegetables coming through the portal.

            “Would somebody please do something?” Sheila asked.  Her voice had become shrill, and when she looked down at Courtney and saw her skin turning green she gently lowered the woman back to the ground before scooting away.

            “That mop-head,” Gloria said.  “We’ve got to do something to destroy it or take away its magic, and fast.  We can’t let any more veggies through, and we can’t let them get to any of our vegetables.”

            “Right,” Caleb said.  “Then they might be able to get them to turn on us and turn our world the same as theirs.  Phil, you got anything in your bag that would be useful against a mop-head?”

            “No, I left all my anti-mop-head weapons at home tonight,” Phil said.  “I do have a salad fork, though.”

            Caleb tried to look out the door, but it was incredibly difficult to see.  Just a few more tomatoes and the army of veggies would be able to get through.  “I don’t know if one salad fork is really going to do us much good anymore,” Caleb said.  “Their army’s getting too big.  Every moment we stay holed up in here, our chances of getting through this get smaller.”

            “Here,” Gloria said, pulling a lighter from her pocket.  “If we can get to the mop-head we can destroy it with fire.”

            “But we’ve got to get there, first,” Caleb said.  He walked up and down the aisles as he spoke, glancing at everything on the shelves.  “There’s got to be something here we can use.  We’re in a damned convenience store.  We have a little of everything.  So there’s got…”  He stopped at one of the shelves, then turned back to everyone and smiled.  “Ooh, I think I’ve got it.  Everyone, run in back and empty out all the spray bottles.”

            Moving as quickly as they could, it took them just over a minute to prepare for Caleb’s idea.  They had to leave Courtney on the floor at the moment, but she didn’t look like she was going anywhere soon.  Her eyes fluttered open every so often, but otherwise she still appeared out of it.  If the things she had been talking about were true, then it was possible her mind was gone by now.  He felt for her, having gone through all that in her own reality only to finally succumb to it right when she had a new chance at life. 

            Caleb grabbed the bottles he had found on the shelves and joined everyone else in the back room, helping them refill the spray bottles.  Even the lottery lady was helpful, now that she knew the only way she would get her tickets was if everyone survived long enough to work the machine for her.  When they came out of the back room, however, Courtney was gone.

            “Shit,” Caleb said.  “She go outside?”

            Gloria ran to the door and gave it a small push.  “Unlocked.”

            “Guess she’s one of them now,” Caleb said.  “Can’t help it.”  He turned to Sheila.  “Sorry.  There goes your new roommate.”

            Sheila shrugged.  “I told you.  I didn’t want to share my apartment with something freakish anyway.”  Despite her words, she failed completely at hiding the note of sadness in her voice.

            They did a quick check of the store to make sure no vegetables had gotten in- it wouldn’t be very good if they managed to defeat the army outside only to find that one lone soldier had survived to start the whole thing over again- before they all filed out the door.  Caleb hissed in his breath as he saw the parking lot.  The entire lot was full of vegetables of all kinds.  They weren’t going anywhere, but they all sort of swayed in an invisible breeze.  In the center of it all, the eggplant still sat next to the mop-head.  The portal was still open, but the vegetables came through it with less frequency now.  Either they were running out of reinforcements from the other side, or the mop-head’s magic was dissipating.  That didn’t really matter either way.  If they really could convert vegetables from this reality, then their army could still grow far beyond this.

            Courtney stood next to the eggplant.  Her eyelids continued to flutter and once in a while she would twitch.  Her skin had gone completely green now, and there were a few noticeable leaves sticking out of her pants.  She didn’t acknowledge Caleb or the others as they came out of the store.  She just stared down with a sort of rapture at the egg-plant and the mop-head.

            Caleb made sure all four of them had spray-bottles in hand, then cleared his throat before speaking down at the nearest kohlrabi.   “Um, take me to your leader?”

            The veggies all moved at once, clearing a path toward the eggplant.  As Caleb and the others walked slowly down the path, the vegetables closed the gap behind them.  There would be no way back into the store without stepping on a few, but Caleb had seen enough to not want that.  Just stepping on a tomato might melt his shoes.  There was no telling what the others might be able to do. 

            The group passed by the body of the jerky stealer, giving them a clear view of the holes in his back.  The sharpened celery was gone, but in their places several small plants were already growing. 

            “Damn, these veggies work fast,” Caleb said.

            “Technically, they’re not all vegetables,” Gloria said.  “Like the tomatoes?  Those are fruits.  They’ve got seeds in them.”

            “Scientifically, sure they’re fruits,” Caleb said.  “But nutritionally they’re solidly in the vegetable column.”

            “To hell with ‘nutritionally.’  They’re fruits.”

            “Veggies.”

            “Fruits!”

            “Veggies, damn it!”

            “All right, you know what?” Phil asked.  “For once I would just like to get through an impending apocalypse without you two getting sidetracked in some inane fucking argument.  That sound good to you?”

            “Are they always like that?” the lottery woman asked.

            “No,” Caleb and Gloria said.

            “Yes,” Phil said at the same time.

            Caleb stopped several feet from the eggplant.  “Um, so I guess that must make you the leader?” he asked.  The eggplant didn’t do anything to acknowledge that Caleb had even spoken.

            “Um, why isn’t he saying anything?” the lottery lady asked.

            “Because it’s an eggplant, you moron,” Caleb said.

            “Caleb,” Phil said, “you know you’re not supposed to talk to customers like that.”

            “Then I’ll talk to your customers like that for you,” Gloria said, then turned to the lottery lady.  “Because it’s an eggplant, you moron.”

            “Well, if it’s just an eggplant then how the hell is it holding up that mop-head?” the woman asked.  “And how exactly does a tomato fling itself at a door with nothing to throw it?”

            “Hey, do I come around to your place of business and point out all the plot-holes in the things you do?” Caleb asked.

            “No, but…”

            “Then don’t do it to us, okay?  We’ve got this covered.”

            Caleb turned slowly around, taking in all the vegetables.  None of them had taken notice of the spray bottles in their hands, but then he wasn’t how to tell if a veggie had taken notice of something in the first place.  Most of them just sat there, although at the far end of the veggie crowd he could see one of them moving for their group.  It looked like it might have been a scallion, and in its long green leaves it carried a plastic baggie.  He couldn’t quite see what was inside, but guessing from the sharp inhale Gloria made, he didn’t think she had the same problem.

            “What is it?” he asked.

            “Seeds,” Gloria said.

            “Seeds?  What’s so bad about that?” Phil asked.

            “It’s something Courtney said.  She said she thought they turned people into plants using either spores…”

            “Or seeds,” Caleb said.  “Okay.  Right then.  How about we not find out which of our orifices they plan on putting those in?”  He held out the spray bottle, not waiting to see if everyone else followed suit, and sprayed it over the nearest group of vegetables. 

            He had never heard veggies scream before, and probably never would again after that night, but that was exactly what they all did as Caleb covered them in salad dressing.

            Immediately all the vegetables he’d covered backed away.  The dressing didn’t do any damage to them, but some deep-seated ancestral fear caused them to run for their lives.  More veggies screamed from all around as the others followed his lead.  In only seconds they’d cleared a space of fifteen feet all around them.  Even the eggplant had backed away, trying to pull the mop-head with it.  Courtney continued to stand in place.  Just because she was a plant now apparently didn’t mean she had the same fears.  She continued to stare at the eggplant, though, and her twitches appeared to get worse.

            “Gloria, you’ve got the lighter,” Caleb said.  “Go for the mop-head!”

            “On it!” she yelled, running at the eggplant with the spray bottle in front of her, misting zesty Italian dressing the whole way. 

            “No, wait!” Phil called out.  “Gloria, stop!”  She seemed to notice the problem at the same time he did, but she was moving too fast to stop in time.  Five tomatoes had rolled out from the invading army and stopped directly in front of her.  Caleb watched in horror, expecting her to step on them and spray acid all over her legs, but apparently these had been modified in a different way.  Instead of bursting open beneath her feet, the tomatoes stayed firm and rolled as she stepped, causing her shoes to slip out from beneath her. 

            She hit the ground back-first, making an “oof” noise as the wind got knocked out of her.  Caleb tried to run to help her up, but one of the tomatoes launched itself into the air and clobbered him in the side of the head.  He heard both Phil and the lottery lady yelling for help, probably as they were hit, too, but the blow had been hard enough to knock him out for just a second.  He collapsed to his knees, and another tomato flew through the air to knock the spray bottle out of his hand.  The other vegetables were on him moments later, covering him and holding him down.

            “Shit,” he heard Gloria say from somewhere nearby, but Caleb couldn’t see through all the vegetables blocking his vision.  “Anybody else got any bright ideas?”

            “Guuuhgh,” someone said nearby.  Caleb wasn’t sure who it was, but he guessed it was the lottery lady.  Maybe her mouth was too covered in leafy greens to speak, or maybe she was trying to speak out as the scallion implanted the seeds in her or…

            “Guuughno.  No.  No!”

            Or maybe that wasn’t the lottery lady at all.  Caleb lifted his head, and even though a head of lettuce was trying to pull it back down, he could see Courtney at the edge of his vision.  She wasn’t just standing in place anymore.  Every movement she made seemed to take a terrible effort, but she was going toward the eggplant.

            “Courtney!” Gloria called out.  “Hey, Caleb, she’s fighting it!”

            Maybe Courtney’s rebellion against their control had distracted the vegetables, because Caleb could now move a little under them as their weight shifted.  He threw several of them off him and sat up to see the show.  Gloria, Phil, and the lottery lady all got up, too, and immediately the all scrambled to each others’ sides.  The eggplant shook as Courtney moved closer, as did most of the other vegetables.  Every single time any one of the army of veggies moved, it looked like it caused Courtney pain, but she continued moving toward the eggplant.

            “Get… out of my head!” she screamed.  “I will not let… you do to this world… what you did to mine!”  She lunged forward, ignoring the other vegetables that threw themselves at her.  One of the tomatoes splattered open on her shirt and immediately began to sizzle against her skin, but she didn’t look like she felt it.  She fell at the eggplant, grabbing it in one hand and the mop-head in the other, causing the inter-dimensional portal to vanish.

            Courtney gave a wordless, agonized scream, then shoved the eggplant in her mouth and took a bite.  The eggplant screamed as she spit the piece in her mouth out and then chomped into it again.  After three bites, the eggplant stopped moving.

            For several seconds, the entire parking lot went quiet.  Then the vegetables started to, for lack of a better word, mumble.  They didn’t sound happy.

            “Courtney, are you…” Gloria started to ask, but Courtney cut her off.

            “I think I remember how to do this,” Courtney said.  “Anyone who doesn’t want to go to a planet ruled by those damn dirty vegetables, you better get by my side real fast.”  She held up the mop-head in front of her and began to mumble a bunch of strange words. 

            She didn’t need to tell any of them a second time.  Most of the vegetables were still stunned by what Courtney had done to their leader, although a few began to stir as Caleb, Gloria, Phil, and the lottery lady kicked the vegetables aside to get next to Courtney.  Courtney backed through the vegetables until they all had their backs against the outer wall of the OneStop, and when Caleb looked out over the army he saw several celery stalks and tomatoes rise into the air by some unknown force, looking like they were about to shoot straight at the humans.

            “Courtney, whatever you’re about to do,” Caleb said, “I would suggest doing…”

            Courtney held up the mop-head in front of her like she was holding the severed head of a Medusa by the hair, screaming out the final words of her spell.  “Klaatu barada nikto!”

            The air in front of the mop-head shimmered and swirled and even wonked a little.  The portal reappeared just as several vegetables flew at them.  Instead of impaling or burning the humans, the vegetables disappeared.

            “Barada!” Courtney yelled, and the portal became bigger.  A wind picked up and various bits of garbage that had been sitting in the parking lot flew around, much of it getting sucked up in the portal’s vortex.  Several of the nearest vegetables were also picked up in the wind, and they vanished into the portal with little veggie screams.  At the outer edges of the parking lot many of the vegetables tried to get away, but the wind pulled them back.

            “Barada!” she yelled again, and the wind grew to near-tornado levels.  Caleb could feel it trying to drag him into the portal even from the opposite side, and all the humans grabbed onto Courtney for support.  Hundreds of vegetables were hurled through the air, all going back where they had come from.

            The last vegetable that got sucked back through was a single cherry tomato.  It was tough to hear through the roar of the wind, but Caleb thought her heard it say one last word in a single high-pitched squeak.  The word sounded suspiciously like “Rosebud.”

            “Nikto,” Courtney said.  The portal vanished, and the poor girl collapsed.

*          *          *

            “There,” the lottery lady said as Phil finally handed her tonight’s lottery tickets.  “Now was that really so hard?”

            Caleb could see that Phil was trying very hard not to say something rude.  Instead the clerk simply said, “Thank you, come again,” and the woman finally left.

            Gloria phoned the police about the jerky-stealer’s body in the parking lot while Caleb and Sheila helped Courtney back inside.  The girl looked extremely weak, but at least she wasn’t showing any more signs of her earlier seizures.  They brought her into the back room and rested her on a metal folding chair.  She didn’t look like she could hold herself up in it, so Caleb stayed next to her just in case.  Sheila, however, kept her distance.

            “Courtney?  Can you understand me?” Caleb asked.

            “More or less,” she said groggily. 

            “Guess this makes you one of the rare people who can fight away the veggies’ control,” he said.

            “And if we got all of them,” Courtney said, “then it shouldn’t matter anyway.  With none of them around trying to use me like a puppet, I think I can still be my normal self.”

            “Except you’re still green,” Caleb said.  “And you have leaves sticking up out of your… um… area.”

            “Then I guess I’ll just need a whole lot of makeup.  And maybe a set of hedge trimmers.”

            Gloria came into the back room.  “Phil’s staying up front to take care of the customers starting to come back in,” she said.  “Caleb, he’ll probably need your help soon.”

            “Thank you, guys,” Courtney said.  “I’m in your debt, all of you.”  She looked over at Sheila.  “But, um, I suppose you’re probably not going to want me as a roommate, huh?”

           “You’re a giant walking plant,” Sheila said.  “Of course I don’t.  But here on the Hill, you’re probably the best option I’m going to find.  You just better not be dropping leaves all over my new carpet, got it?”  She took off her OneStop smock and tossed it on a hook in the room’s corner.  “I guess I’ll see you soon enough.”

            They all remained silent until Sheila had left the room.  “My, she’s going to be an interesting roommate,” Courtney said.

            “I’m sure you’ll get used to her,” Caleb said.

            “Now I just need to find a job, I guess.”

            “You could always apply here,” Gloria said.  “The Apocalypse Shift is still short a person.”

            “Really?” she asked.  “I don’t know.  After fighting a rebellion against vegetables in a parallel world, I’m not sure working at a convenience store would be something I could go back to.”

            “I’m sure this particular store is a little more interesting than most,” Caleb said.  “But only a little.”

            “Hey, you better punch in,” Gloria said.  “Big Maggie’s already going to be pissed when she looks at the time clock and sees you were this late.”

            “Aw crap,” Caleb said.  “You mean to tell me I did all that without getting paid for any of it?” 

            “Don’t complain so much,” Gloria said.  “It could be…”

            “Don’t.  You.  Dare.  Say it,” Caleb said.  Maybe he had stopped her in time.  Hopefully he had.  Because if anyone here even so much as thought that things could be worse…

            There was a scream from the back of the store, and Caleb couldn’t help but give Courtney a weary smile.  “Welcome to the Apocalypse Shift.” 

The End

(c) 2009 Derek J. Goodman

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08
Dec
09

The Leek Shall Inherit the Earth – Part 1 of 2

Sorry I’m a little late on this week’s update.  For the next two weeks we’ll be hanging out with Caleb and Gloria again.  For anyone who is new to the blog, you can find info about it and the first story here.  And as always, if you want to see more of the characters, you can purchase The Apocalypse Shift novel from Amazon.

I hope you enjoy!

-Derek J. Goodman

The Leek Shall Inherit the Earth – Part 1

 

            “Hey Caleb?”

            “Yeah?”

            “I think someone’s trying to open a portal to a parallel dimension.”

            “So?”

            “It’s opening in our dumpster.”

            Caleb paused in cleaning out one of the coffee pots to think about that.  He’d been working the third shift at the OneStop Mart for longer than he liked to think about now.  During the day it was just another convenience store, but once night fell this part of the city became the playground of the worst nightmares of humanity, and apparently even the nastiest creatures in existence got hankerings for midnight snacks.  It wasn’t a completely horrible job, all things considered, although the occasional mutant dripping slime on his freshly mopped floor was annoying, and the attempts by various things to end the world twice a month had lost its charm quickly.  He’d seen many strange things while working here- vampire bums, flying armadillos from beyond Hell, people who actually bought those little cans of Vienna Sausage of their own free will- and his coworker Phil, who stared at him while patiently waiting for some idea of what to do, was even currently in a serious relationship with a zombie.  Caleb thought he had the right to say he had seen (and was bored with) it all.  Trans-dimensional portals were new-ish, though.  Or at least less common than the other stuff.

            “How do you know it’s actually a portal?” Caleb asked.

            “Well,” Phil said, “it’s all shimmery and swirly.”

            “That doesn’t mean anything.  Remember the time that sorceress got stoned and decided to warp all of reality to match her high?  Everything got shimmery and swirly, not to mention the flowers we both had growing out of our heads for a week.”

            “It’s not that kind of shimmery and swirly.  It’s less trippy and more wonky.  Go out back and take a look for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

            Caleb finished cleaning the coffee pot and then satisfied himself that there weren’t any customers in the store and wasn’t likely to be any soon (the bar rush was over for the night and the nearest group of cultists wouldn’t finish their dark rituals for another hour or so).  Phil led him out the back door, opened the lid to the dumpster, and pointed inside.

            Phil was right.  Something inside was indeed shimmery and swirly and, yes, perhaps even a bit wonky.  The air above a musty smelling old mop-head blinked and fluttered with a yellowish-white light.  A circle about two feet wide spun around like a whirlpool on its side, and every so often it made noises disconcertingly close to a chicken getting it on with an elephant.

            “Huh,” Caleb said.  “Maybe it is a portal to another dimension after all.  Any idea what caused it?”

            “Not a clue.  Wait, maybe it’s the mop-head doing it.”

            “Why the hell would a mop-head be trying to create a bridge between realities?”

            Phil gave Caleb a look like he thought it was ridiculous to believe a mop-head could try to do anything intentionally.  He might not have been so sure of himself if he’d been working at the OneStop already in the days immediately after Gloria had quit.  Several local demons had been quite upset about their favorite clerk leaving and had tried possessing the mops in order to make them eat the customers.

            “It’s not doing it on purpose,” Phil said.  “Don’t you remember when we dropped that eye of newt and Hand of Glory into the mop water on accident and ended up summoning Quantimar the Timelord?”

            “Um, no.”

            “Well, your memory of it probably got erased in a time paradox or something.  Anyway, I think that’s the mop-head that was in the water at the time, and it’s just releasing its leftover mojo.  Like a smell.”

            Caleb didn’t know about its mojo, but it did stink like a rotting shoggoth.  “Huh.  If that’s the case then it’s probably been making the portal for a while.  Just leave it alone and I’m sure it will disappear when the garbageman takes the mop-head in the morning.”

            “What, you just want to let it sit there?”

            “Phil, with a portal that small I really doubt we have to worry about anything coming…”  He had intended the last word to be through, but he stopped the sentence as he realized what he was doing.  The problem with working at a store on the Hill was that whenever he mentioned something in the hopes of it not happening, that was exactly what did happen.  Maybe the mystical forces that governed the neighborhood thought that sort of thing was funny.  Hopefully this time would be different, though…

            There was a horrible popping noise like the chicken and the elephant had just climaxed together (and a crackly sound behind it all suggested they might be on fire, too), and then the portal was gone.  In its place was a young unconscious woman about Caleb’s age.  A very beautiful young unconscious woman.

            And of course, because that’s just how things like this always seemed to work out, she was also very naked.

*          *          *

            Caleb woke from yet another of his perpetually disturbing dreams (he couldn’t remember the exact nature of this one, but it had had something to do with a teddy bear and a dildo in the shape of a library card) and wondered for a moment why he was sleeping on the couch.  Then he remembered the transdimensional visitor they’d found last night.  He and Phil had waited for her to wake up and explain what was going on, but she’d remained unconscious for the rest of their shift.  Unfortunately she’d also remained naked, and they hadn’t had much to clothe her.  A blue OneStop Mart smock had been enough to cover her top (and despite both Caleb and Phil’s efforts to be gentlemen, they were still guys and couldn’t help but appreciate how very nice a top it was), but they’d still been unable to find any clothes for her bottom half.  They’d once kept an extra pair of pants around for just these sorts of random occasions, but the last person to use them had died while attempting to destroy the world before he could return them.  Eventually Caleb and Phil had just wrapped her nether regions in toilet paper.  Once their shift had been over, Phil had helped him carry her back to Caleb’s apartment, moving as quickly as possible to get her out of the chilly autumn weather.  Thankfully he didn’t live too far away.  At night on the Hill, two guys carrying an unconscious woman in toilet paper might have seemed perfectly normal.  After sunrise it probably just looked disturbing and possibly illegal.

            Caleb had given the woman his bed simply because it felt like the only right thing to do, but he would have to throw away the sheets after she woke up.  She still smelled like dumpster.

            Caleb stood up from the couch, yawned, and scratched himself for several seconds before he realized why he’d woken up.  Someone was pounding at his front door, and hard.  The entire room shook with each blow, and some of the empty soda cans that littered the coffee table actually rattled and fell over.  No man could possibly be capable of such strength.  And there was still daylight streaming through the windows so it couldn’t be one of the more secretive denizens of the Hill.  If not a man and not a monster, then it could only be a woman.  Mostly likely of the girlfriend variety.

            Out of habit Caleb put the chain lock on his door to peer out before letting Gloria in.  His reputation for beating away beasties at the OneStop had caused various bump-in-the-night things to go after him at home, although he never understood why they took such things so personally.  The only reason he ever killed any of them or foiled them was because he was paid to take care of the store at night.  He wasn’t even paid very well for it, and the manager threatened to dock his pay any time some creature or whatever did damage in the store.

            Despite the insanely loud knocking Gloria looked fairly happy when she stepped through the door.  Caleb had first met her when she had worked the Apocalypse Shift with him, and despite his attraction to her they had annoyed the piss out of each other.  After she had quit, though, she had continued to stop by on occasion and helped out with the problems that cropped up when monsters came in for Twinkies or whatever.  They had grown on each other, but neither of them could really say that out loud to each other.  For the moment, thankfully, they at least had the common ground of sex.

            “Here,” Gloria said, and shoved a small stack of money into Caleb’s hands.  “That’s the last of the money I owe you for repairs and replacing your AC/DC albums.  Next time I need a place to store gremlins I promise I won’t use your apartment.”

            Caleb thumbed through the stack and tried to count it, although that was difficult since most of the three hundred dollars were in singles.  He supposed that was to be expected when his girlfriend (although she insisted that he never call her that in public) made most of her money as tips from stripping.  Some of the bills still smelled like her g-string, however, so supposed he couldn’t complain too loudly.

            “Also,” Gloria started, “I was thinking about our on-going problem with Mary McPhisto…”

            “Actually, now’s not a good time,” Caleb said.  “Thanks for bringing the money by, but I really need to get back to sleep.”  He tried to gently push her back through the door, but it was hard to gently get Gloria to do anything.  She weaved around him and walked for his bedroom, taking off her trademark leather jacket and black cowboy and letting them fall to the floor.

            “Well fine, I’ll just sleep with you.  I don’t have to work tonight, after all.”

            “But I do, and I need to…”  He forgot what he was about to say as she stripped off her shirt and went into his bedroom.  Their relationship was new enough that the sight of her topless could still tongue-tie him.  He completely forgot about the mystery woman until Gloria came back out, already putting her shirt back on.

            “Okay, you have exactly five seconds to explain why there’s a woman in your bed wearing only toilet paper and a smock.  After that I find one of your wooden stakes and jam it through your eyeballs.”

            “Oh, uh, her.”  Caleb scratched his head, unable to look her in the eye.  “She’s, um, a transdimensional someone-or-other from someplace.  She came into this world through a mop-head.”

            Gloria started towards the nearest closet.  “You keep all your back-up stakes in here, right?”

            “Wait!”  Caleb didn’t think she would actually stab him, but then he did remember that one customer at the strip club who had once tried to spank her.  “Just hold on one minute while I explain.”  He gave her what little information he knew, and her mood seemed to calm.  He couldn’t help but notice as he finished, though, that her eyes kept wandering towards the closet.

            “So she hasn’t woken up at all since she appeared?” Gloria asked.

            “Not that I know of.  Every time I check on her she’s colder than she should be, but otherwise nothing appears wrong with her.”

            “Wait, you touched her to find out her temperature?”

            “Well…”

            “And just where did you touch her?”

            “Hey now, I wouldn’t…”

            “Never mind.  Let’s at least try to wake her up.  Maybe get her to put some clothes on.”  Gloria glared at him again, and Caleb found very interesting things to look at on the floor.

            He followed her into the bedroom, but they both stopped when they saw the bed. 

            “Where the hell did she go?” Caleb asked.

            “Hell if I know.  She was here just a minute ago.”

            Caleb looked down and saw a trail of toilet paper leading from the bed to the door.  “No way.  There’s no way she could have sneaked past us without either of us seeing her…”  He turned back to walk out the door just as a steak knife came up to press against his throat.

            “Don’t move, you fucking carrot,” the woman said.  Although her hand held the knife steady, her eyes darted back and forth, looking at everything at once.  “Where am I?  What the hell have you done to me?”

            Caleb talked slowly, mindful of the steel biting just below his chin.  “Gloria?  A little help here?”

            He didn’t dare try turning his head to look back at her, but by the sound of Gloria’s voice he was pretty sure she was smiling.  “Are you kidding?  It’s not every day I get a show like this.”

            “Gloria!”

            “Fine, fine.”  Gloria moved into his peripheral vision, and the woman’s eyes finally focused on her.  “Yo, what’s shaking?”

            The woman’s eyes moved rapidly between Gloria and Caleb.  “You two aren’t actually carrots, are you?”

            Gloria said nothing for several seconds then positioned herself so Caleb had a better view of her.  “I really have no response or clever retort for that.  Do you?”

            “No, can’t say that I do.”

            The woman bit her lip and seemed to think about something.  She pulled the knife away from Caleb’s neck just a tiny bit.  “Take off your pants,” she said.

            Caleb’s eyes went wide.  “Why would you want me to…”

            She pushed the knife tight against his skin again.  “Both of you.  Now.  Your underwear, too.”

            Gloria shrugged and immediately started to unbutton her pants.  After a moment’s hesitation Caleb did the same.  Gloria’s pants dropped to the floor and the woman looked between her legs.  Gloria’s underwear was so thin that she didn’t even need to take it off for the woman to see underneath, and the woman seemed to be satisfied by whatever she thought- or didn’t think- she saw.  Caleb’s pants and underwear fell a few seconds later.  She stared at his nether regions for far longer than Caleb was comfortable with, but eventually she nodded.

            “You can both put your pants back on,” the woman said as she lowered the knife and let him dress again. 

            “You might want to get dressed yourself,” Gloria said.  “If you continue giving my fuckbuddy an eyeful like that, then me and you might have to have words.”

            “Oh.”  For the first time the woman looked down at herself and realized she was naked.  If her state embarrassed her at all she made no sign of it.  “Um, is it possible I could take a shower or something first?  I smell like I’ve been in a dumpster.”

            “That’s because you have been in a dumpster,” Caleb said.  “I don’t suppose you would mind telling us who you are?”

            The woman glanced at the room around her as the confusion slowly disappeared from her face.  “My name is Courtney de la Driffit, and as far as I know I am the last surviving member of the Vegetable Rebellion.”

*          *          *

            Caleb and Gloria waited while Courtney took her shower, occupying themselves by alternately bitching at each other and making out, occasionally managing to do it at the same time.  That was quite a feat, and while he wouldn’t say it aloud Caleb was secretly proud of himself.

            Courtney came out of the bathroom dabbing at her close-cropped hair with a towel and wearing a pair of Caleb’s old jeans along with his faded Hanson concert t-shirt.  Gloria had given him a curious raised eyebrow when he’d pulled the shirt out for Courtney, but he didn’t try to explain.  Gloria might have been able to deal with the sight of dead bodies being fed to Yog-Sothoth, but the list of horrible bands he had actually paid to see in concert would likely drive her over the edge of sanity.

            They both sat on the couch and leaned forward like children waiting for story time as Courtney pushed a pile of semi-clean clothing off Caleb’s arm chair so she could sit.  “So,” Gloria said.  “Tell us what the hell is going on.”

            Courtney wouldn’t look either of them in the eye.  “If you don’t mind I’d rather not talk about it.  All the memories of everything I’ve been through are just so painful and…”

            “Oh hell no you don’t,” Caleb said.  “Fricking spill it already.”

            “Man, don’t you think that’s a little insensitive?” Gloria said to him.

            “Are you kidding?  After all that talk about Fruit Fighters…”

            “Vegetable Rebellion,” Gloria prompted.

            “Whatever.  The whole point is this whole thing is a new one even for us.  And trust me, we’ve got some stories.  Like the cyborg fist fight at that mad scientist bar.”

            “Or the mutant frog incident,” Gloria said.

            “Or that time when I got a splinter in my finger and I had…”

            Courtney finally looked up at them.  “Everyone I have ever cared for is dead.  Pardon me if I don’t think this is as fun as you two seem to think.”

            They both went quiet.  There had once been a time where Caleb had chided Gloria for exactly the sort of enthusiasm they were now showing together.  He’d thought at the time that she hadn’t taken all the things that happened on the Hill seriously, but the truth was everything had grown pretty routine.  Earlier in his life he wouldn’t have expected that saving the world from monsters would eventually be boring.

            “I’m sorry,” Gloria said.  “Why don’t you just tell us your story.  Take as much time as you need.”  She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and offered one to Courtney.  Courtney shook her head and began as Gloria lit one for herself.  Caleb glared at her, but he’d given up by now on trying to get her to quit.

            “Well, to start with, I guess my world used to be pretty normal.  Just like this one.”

            Caleb snorted.  “This world is only normal if you consider disembodied heads bent on world domination using fifty-foot mechs to be common every day occurances.”

            “For the love of the Great Old Ones,” Gloria said.  “Would you just shut your trap and let the girl tell her story?”

            Caleb muttered something rude about Gloria’s lineage under his breath but said nothing else.  Courtney gave Gloria a faint smile of appreciation before she continued. 

            “It was pretty normal.  I had a job at a bookstore, I had my own apartment, I had a… a girlfriend.”  She took a moment to look for adverse reactions from either of her listeners and smiled again when they did nothing.  “Then one morning I went to the grocery store before work.  Just wanted some pop to go with my lunch.  Before I even got within five blocks of the store I already realized something was wrong.  I saw people running out the front door screaming.  One woman looked like she was somehow managing to balance a tomato on her shoulder even as she waved her hands in the air in a panic.  Another guy looked like he was trailing a green pepper behind him on a string or something.  It was only when I got closer to the store did I see all the dead bodies in the parking lot, all the blood.  I had just enough time before I ran to notice a zucchini sitting on top of one of the bodies.  I swear to God, it looked like it was gloating.

            “You see, some time during the night before, all the vegetables of the world had risen up against their human oppressors.  They called it Condiment Day.

            “The reports were sketchy for the next several days, but I heard some bits and pieces on the news programs that were still broadcasting.  I guess the entire White House was destroyed by a suicide bombing leek.  I didn’t even know what the hell a leek was before that, I had to look it up.  No one knew what had set the vegetables off, although the preliminary theory was that they all sat around past their expiration dates and went bad all at once.  They wanted revenge for being eaten over all the years.  Most humans they just forced into slavery, but all the vegetarians they forced into concentration camps.  My girlfriend was among them.”

            Tears fell from Courtney’s eyes.  Caleb rummaged around on his coffee table until he found a Kleenex.  He offered it to her and she accepted it until she realized it had already been used, and quite some time ago from the look of it.  She passed it back to him, and he shrugged.

            “That’s when we started the Rebellion.  There were only a few of us at first, but our numbers grew quickly.  In the beginning the vegetables ignored us, but there were only so many greenhouses we could destroy before they had to admit we were a problem.  I suppose we all thought that once they fought back it would be in a way we could defend against.  We never suspected that after years of us genetically modifying them, they might have picked up a few tricks of their own.

            “That’s when they created the plague that turned everyone into vegetables.”

            Courtney paused like she was gathering her thoughts, and Gloria took that moment to speak up.  “I’m sorry, but you mean a plague that put people into a coma or killed all their brain functions, right?  Please say that’s what you mean.”

            Courtney shook her head.  “No.  Trust me, we didn’t believe it either.  Although I suppose that’s probably not the best way to describe it.  They didn’t actually turn into just vegetables, but everyone who became infected turned into plants.  At first the person looks exactly the same as they always did, but their mind is gone.  About a day after a person becomes infected, the vegetables can start controlling their minds like puppets.  That’s about the same time the physical signs start appearing.”  Courtney blushed.  “That’s why I made you guys take off your pants.  I didn’t know if I was in dimension they controlled, you see, and the first place leaves start to sprout is in the pubic region.”  She thought about that for a moment, then stood up and started to undo her jeans.  “I can show you mine if you want to make sure I’m not infected.”

            “No,” Caleb and Gloria said at once, although Caleb hoped Gloria hadn’t noticed his “no” had been less than enthusiastic.  If she did, he could probably expect a punch in the ribs from her later.

            “It’s okay,” Gloria said.  “We got enough of an eyeball of what you’ve got earlier.

            Courtney sat back down.  “After the leaves start showing up then a person’s skin starts turning green.  Then after that…”  She paused and sighed.  “I’ve only seen one or two people fight it off and retain some aspects of who they once were.  Everyone else just stopped being human in any way.  They stopped thinking, stopped moving, and eventually they would just take root where they stood.  That would be the end.”

            “Okay then, so how did you end up here?” Caleb asked. 

            “At first we tried to find a cure for the plague, but whatever seed or spore the vegetables used to spread it was too hard for us to find.  Some of us then started looking for more esoteric means of fighting it and started looking into magic.  I got laughed at by a lot of people for that.  They thought it was ridiculous to believe in such things.”

            “No more ridiculous than believing vegetables could hold a coup,” Caleb said.  He suppressed a whine as Gloria kicked him in the shin.  Courtney, however, smiled at the comment.

            “Yeah.  So I start looking into these things, reading every book I could find on magic.  There weren’t many books of any kind left, so it was tough.”  Courtney’s smile faded, and she looked down at her hands fidgeting in her lap.  “I was reading a spellbook when the final attack on our hideout came.  I’d found a spell earlier for teleporting, but I wasn’t sure I believed it would work.  But when the vegetables attacked I panicked and read it aloud.  And now…”  She motioned to the apartment around her.  Then she looked up at them, and Caleb saw the wet rivulets running down her face.  “I didn’t actually mean to leave the others behind.  You don’t think I’m a coward, do you?”

            Actually that was exactly what Caleb had been thinking, but he wasn’t going to say it out loud.  All he would get for it was another kick in the shin.  Courtney put a hand to her cheek, looked at the tears on her fingers, and blushed.  “Um, you mind if I use your bathroom again for a minute?”

            “Sure, go ahead,” Caleb said.  She left, and as soon as she was out of the room Caleb and Gloria turned to each other.  “Well, what do you think?” he asked.

            “I think I believe her,” Gloria said.  “You can’t just make up a story like that and be able to keep a straight face, let alone cry.”

            Caleb shrugged.  “Yeah, I guess.  So now that we have the last of the Fruit Fighters in our world…”

            “Vegetable Rebels,” Gloria corrected.  “Fruits and vegetables aren’t really the same thing.  See, fruits are the part of the plant that has…”

            “Whatever.  She fought a losing war against asparagus and now she’s here.  So what are we going to do with her?”

            “You’re not going to do anything with her,” Gloria said while giving him the stink eye.  “All you’re going to do tonight is go to work and forget she was ever naked in your bed.”

            “Fine, fine.  So what are you going to do with her?”

            Gloria smiled.  “About the only thing I can do for a girl who’s been through that much.  I’m going to take her clothes shopping.”

*          *          *

            Of course, there were more issues that had to be dealt with here than just making sure Courtney wasn’t running around naked anymore, a lot of them.  Before Gloria took her out, all three of them discussed what was going to happen next.  Caleb and Gloria were willing to look for a way to send her back if that’s what she wanted, and although Courtney seemed torn up over leaving everyone else behind, she still said no.  Not only was the Hill a place where she could escape from the past and start a new life, but she also probably wouldn’t have to hide her origins here.  When she said she was a freedom fighter from an alternate reality ruled by vegetables, people likely wouldn’t think her crazy.  If anything, they would ask whether onions or radishes were the more vicious.

            But starting a new life required a lot of things.  It required a job, and identification, and most importantly for now, a place to stay.  Caleb would have offered for Courtney to stay at his place for a while, but even though Courtney would have no interest in him Gloria wouldn’t have it.  Likewise, she couldn’t stay with Gloria.  Her recent issues with keeping gremlins in her apartment had caused her landlord to crack down on anyone or anything else living in the apartment without being on the lease.

            Caleb had an idea, however, and he left for work early to look in on it while Gloria and Courtney went out.  The sun hadn’t set yet, so the walk to work didn’t involve bumping into any of the fairy prostitutes or mad scientist drug dealers who normally came out after dark.  Phil wasn’t due in for his shift yet either, so when he got to the store he instead found Kelly and Sheila working.  The two of them were the usual clerks on the second shift, but unlike the people on the first shift they were occasionally forced to be at the OneStop after dark and therefore knew what the Hill became at night.  Kelly was usually pretty tough about it, the kind of person who would have been able to work the Apocalypse Shift with Phil and Caleb and have no real problem.  Sheila, on the other hand…  Well, that damned girl was afraid of her own shadow half the time, and that had even been before the incident where her shadow had come to life and tried to take her place. 

            Kelly was behind the counter helping a customer, and nodded in greeting at Caleb as he came in.  He nodded back but walked right past her towards Sheila.  Sheila had a rag and one of the spray bottles and was standing staring into the open front of the nacho’s chili and cheese machine.  Her lip was curled and her nose was crunched up against the smell.  Caleb couldn’t blame her.  Even the werewolves and weredogs around here, who had a tendency to lick their own butts with no problem, wouldn’t have gotten anything out of the machine if they knew what it looked like inside when the chili leaked where it wasn’t supposed to.

            “It’s not going to clean itself just to get you to stop staring at it,” Caleb said to her.

            “This thing is disgusting,” Sheila said.  “It wouldn’t get so bad if you cleaned it out more often on your own shift.”

            “Hey now, it’s not like we just sit on our asses.  We’ve kind of got our hands full with, oh you know, trying to keep monsters from destroying the world.”

            “Yet you manage to get all your other work done,” Sheila said.  “It would only take you a couple minutes a night.”

            The inside of that machine needed a hell of a lot more than a couple minutes of cleaning every night.  It needed a heavy duty scrubbing with industrial acid.  But despite Caleb’s first inclination to say something more to annoy her, he reined it in.  Now was the time to get on her good side.  “I will, I promise.  Hey, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

            “No.”

            “No what?”

            “No I’m not covering your fricking shift again.  I almost died last time!”

            “You didn’t almost die.  You almost had a demon eat your soul.  There’s a difference.  But I wasn’t going to ask you to cover for me.  This involves something else.”

            “Oh?”  Sheila didn’t sound like she was listening.  She gave the inside of the machine a dainty squirt from the spray bottle and then reached in with the rag, keeping herself as far away from the gunk inside as she could.

            “Kelly told me the other day about your troubles,” Caleb said.  Sheila looked at him with a tight frown, then peeked around the machine to Kelly.  Kelly had finished ringing up the customer and had been leaning on the counter to listen to them as they talked.

            “Oh really?  Well, Kelly is gonna have to learn better when to keep her big mouth shut.”

            “So I know you’re girlfriend broke up with you…” Caleb started.

            “That cheating bitch didn’t break up with me.  I broke up wit her.”

            “Whatever.  I know that without having someone else to split the rent you’re having trouble keeping up on you bills.  I thought you might be willing to take a roommate.”

            “There’s no way in hell I would ever be your roommate, Caleb.  Gloria’s already told me what a slob you are.”

            “Not me.  Someone I know.”

            “I’m not going to be roommates with any of your freakish night shift friends, either.  There’s no telling what could happen.”

            “She’s pretty.”

            Sheila stopped wiping out the machine and looked at him.  “I don’t need or want anyone trying to set me up.”  She still had the frown, but there was a hesitancy in the way she said her words.

            “Sorry.  But that’s not really what I’m trying to do.  She just needs a place to stay, and she’s going to be getting a job as quick as she can.  Maybe Big Maggie can even hire her on as a third Apocalypse Shifter.  But she’s had a lot of terrible things happen to her lately and needs someone to cut her a break.”

            Sheila’s rag was filthy by now, and she held it by one of the clean spots using only her thumb and forefinger, keeping it as far away from her as she could.  She stared at it like it could give her answers, and Caleb waited.

            “Maybe,” Sheila finally said.  “I’d have to talk to this person first.  You sure she’s not one of your weird fricking night-shift beastie things?”

            “She’s a refugee from an alternate dimension where she was a resistance fighter against vegetables.”

            Sheila stared at him for a moment, then went to the nearest garbage and threw the rag in.  “I’m really tired of constantly dealing with all this crap, you know.”

            “She’ll be here with Gloria shortly.  Can I tell her yes?”

            Sheila sighed.  “Trial basis only, okay?  If she turns into something freakish I reserve the right to kick her out.”

            “She’s not going to turn into anything freakish, okay?  Jeez, you’re so closed minded.”

            Sheila just snorted. 

 Continued Next Week

(c) 2009 Derek Goodman