Archive Page 2

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

03
Feb
10

The Devil and Danielle the Fry Cook – Part 2

Hello again, and sorry for again being late.  Here’s the conclusion to last week’s story.  Don’t forget that, if you haven’t already, now would be a good time to purchase a copy of The Apocalypse Shift, since the sequel will be serialized here starting in two weeks.

Enjoy!

Derek J. Goodman

The Devil and Danielle the Fry Cook – Part 2

     At eight o’clock, with two hours to go until closing and the main portion of the dinner rush over with, Carrie knew she should be worried.  Danielle may have been doing slightly better at her duties than normal, but that wasn’t saying much.  Carrie had rearranged everyone’s position tonight to accommodate the extra worker, which had landed Danielle working the drive-thru.  Three times already, Danielle had screwed up the customers’ orders, and despite Carrie’s constant reminders that both their souls depended on her, Danielle seemed to be ringing up orders and counting out change slower than usual.

     The Devil, on the other hand, was the model of a perfect worker.  She worked the front registers where Carrie could keep a close eye on her from the fry station, and Carrie could barely see anything wrong with her.  She was quick, polite to the customers, and even managed to get most of them to super-size their combos.  Under other circumstances Carrie might have even admired the girl.

     If there was any flaw to the Devil’s work, though, it was that Carrie could clearly see how much she hated this.  The Devil managed to keep her smile with each and every customer, but the instant they were gone her smile would disappear.  Carrie could even see how forced that smile was on occasion.  With one man she had asked if he would like fries with that and he had gone off on her for no real reason, getting rather loud as he asked her just how stupid she had to be to not know that of course he wanted fries with that, that he actually worked a real job for a living and after a long day he was hungry, damn it!  People like that came in once in a while, people who thought they were so much better simply because they were on the other side of the counter, but despite some uncontrolled twitching at the edge of her fake smile, the Devil had maintained her cool until the customer left.

     Carrie pondered the incident as she sat in one of the booths and flicked the ashes of her cigarette into a small aluminum ashtray.  She’d been working long enough today that she got a smoke break, and she needed this time to calm her nerves a little.  She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t notice that both Andy and the Devil had disappeared from her immediate sight until the Devil walked up to her booth.

     “Hey boss,” the Devil said without any irony or sarcasm in her voice.  “Think I’ve been here long enough for a smoke break myself?”

     The absolute last thing Carrie needed right now was the Devil sitting next to her and fraying her nerves even more, but what was she going to do, say no to the Devil?  Besides, according to Burger Master policy the Devil really had been working long enough for a short break.  Carrie gestured to the seat across from her and pulled the ashtray to where they could both get at it.  The Devil sat, patted down the pockets of her uniform, grimaced, then looked sheepishly at Carrie.  “I’m sorry, but I don’t suppose I could please bum a cigarette from you?  I wasn’t expecting to be gone from Hell this long today, so I didn’t bring mine.”

     Carrie only hesitated for a moment before giving her one.  The Devil had actually just said “sorry” and “please.”  Whenever Danielle wanted one she was always rude about it.  “Enjoy it while you can,” Carrie said.  “I heard the boss say that all Burger Masters across the country are about to go smoke free.”

     “Yeah,” the Devil said.  “A lot of Hell is like that now, too.  Which is surprising, considering how many people from California are down there.  You’d think they’d allow smoking just to annoy all those health-conscious jackasses.”

     Carrie chuckled as she exhaled a breath of smoke.  “You know, you’re nothing at all like I expected the Devil to be.”

     “And how did you expect the Devil to be?”

     “I don’t know.  Not like you.”

     The Devil looked around to make sure there were no customers watching, then lit her cigarette on a burst of flame from her finger.  “Part of that is probably because you surface people have such weird ideas of what Hell is.” 

     Carrie couldn’t help but lean forward in interest.  “Why?  What do we have wrong?”

     The Devil took a deep drag, then let it out.  “Well, for starters, I’m not the Devil.”

     Carrie raised her eyebrows.  “But I saw what you did earlier, with the horns and hooves and whatever.”

     “Oh yeah, don’t get me wrong.  I am a devil.  I’m just not the Devil.”

     “Okay, I’m confused.”

     “There’s more than one of us,” the devil said.  “All the stuff that you people blame on the Devil, which, by the way is usually not our fault at all, but the stuff that is our fault… You don’t think it’s really possible for just one person to do all of it, do you?”

     “Well, I guess not.  I’ve never really given it much thought.”

     “And you don’t just wake up one day and Bang!  You’re a devil.  You have to work for it.  You want to know why I’m so good at this job you’ve got me doing?  It’s because I had to do this for three hundred years in order to pay for college.  Then, after school, I had to do another hundred years of internship before I earned the right to actually call myself a devil.  Do you have any idea what an internship is like in Hell?  Not pretty.”

     Carrie didn’t realize her jaw had been hanging open until she closed it.  “Wow.  So how long have you been a devil for, then?”

     “A month.”

     “Only a month?  But I thought you said Danielle sold her soul to you last year.”

     “That wasn’t me.  That was my predecessor.  She retired and moved to Antarctica.  I’m still on probation.  And that’s why I’m not going to blow this challenge.”  The devil took a final puff on her cigarette, and then stubbed it out in the ashtray.  “I’m sorry that little waste of flesh dragged you into this, Carrie.  I’m not just saying that.  When I looked into your eyes earlier I saw how hard you’ve been working for your dreams.  But if I lose I’m going to get fired, and there goes my chance at my dreams.”  The devil stood up and started walking back to counter, then stopped and turned back for a moment.  “Still, for what it’s worth, good luck.”

     Carrie finished her cigarette, then immediately started another one.  That last one hadn’t managed to calm her nerves at all.

*    *    *

     With only a few minutes until closing, Carrie was no longer just worried.  She was scared witless.  She paced back and forth in front of the fryers, trying to think of something, anything, that might save her soul at this point.  Andy kept looking at her from where he stood emptying the shake machine for the night, and even though he didn’t have anything to worry about he looked just as nervous as her.  The devil was wiping down trays with a damp rag and putting tray liners on them for the next morning, and despite how sure her success looked about now she would occasionally look back at Carrie with something that may have been anxiety.  Or maybe that wasn’t anxiety at all.  Maybe it was sympathy.

     Danielle, however, was nowhere to be seen.  Carrie glanced quickly around, then noticed the suspicious smell wafting through the air.  Carrie followed the odor towards the back, past the cooler and freezer to the storeroom in the far rear of the store.  Danielle stood in the storeroom doorway smoking something that was most assuredly not a legal cigarette.

     “Danielle!  What the hell are you doing?”

     “Enjoying my last few minutes on earth before I’m dragged down into Hell.  Want some?”

     Carrie grabbed the joint out of her fingers and stomped it out on the floor.  “You’re supposed to be working, dammit!  Both our souls are depending on this!”  She took Danielle by the arm and started dragging her back to the front.

     “What’s the point?” Danielle asked.  “We close in, like, two minutes.  And then it’s over.”

     Both of them were back by the fryers now.  Carrie only barely noticed as the front door of the restaurant opened and a lady with graying hair made her way to the counter.  Under normal circumstances that would have annoyed Carrie to no end.  The store hours were clearly posted for everyone to see, but there was always someone who waited until the last possible moment to come in.  The devil took her place at the register as the woman stood staring up at the menu.

     “It’s not over,” Carrie said.  “After the store is closed there are still things that need to be done.  We’ve got maybe another half-hour.  We can still do this.  But you have to stop being such a damn slacker!”

     “Can I help you, ma’am?” the devil said to the woman.

     “Don’t you go calling me ma’am.  I’m still young enough to be your sister, young lady,” the woman said.

     “We’re still not going to win,” Danielle said.  “So why bother even trying?”

     “Why?” Carrie asked.  “How about because I stood up for you!  I’m going to have my soul eaten by some Hell-beast now because I did what I thought was right.  Don’t you think you owe me at least to do what you can?”

     “What’s on your Burger Master Supreme?” the woman said.

     “Cheese, bacon, onions, tomatoes, and barbecue sauce,” the devil said.

     “Ugh.  That’s disgusting.  What about the Burger Master Deluxe?”

     “That’s a quarter pound hamburger with mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, tomatoes, and lettuce.”

     “I never asked for your help,” Danielle said.  “If you’re screwed, that’s your own fault.”

     “That sounds disgusting, too,” the woman said.  “But I suppose I’m not going to get anything better out of you, am I?  I’ll have the Deluxe thing.”

     “You little frickin…” Carrie started to say.  Then she finally realized what was going on at the counter.  “Oh.  Wait.”

     “Wait?” Danielle said.  “Wait for what?”  She turned to look where Carrie, as well as Andy now, were looking.  Despite the false smile still on the devil’s face, it was obvious how annoyed she was starting to get.  She punched in the woman’s order, then said, “Would you like to make that a combo today?”

     “Just hold your horses and don’t rush me, all right?  I’m still thinking.”  The woman stared at the menu for a few more seconds.  “On second thought, I don’t want the Deluxe.  I want the Supreme.”

     The devil’s smile was no longer so easy to see as she had to void out the order and start over.  “Will that be all then, tonight?”

     The woman looked offended.  “Aren’t you going to ask whether or not I want it as a combo?  Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”

     The devil had to take a deep breath before she spoke again, but her voice no longer sounded anything close to polite or friendly.  “Would you like to make that a combo?”

     The woman nodded her head.  “No.  That would be way too much food for this late.  But when you make my burger, could you not put on any of that… um… that one topping… I can’t think of it.  The one that doesn’t taste good.”

     The devil just stared at her.  No smile anymore whatsoever.

     “Oh come on, help me jog my memory,” the woman said.  “It’s that one topping… it’s red…”

     “Tomatoes?” the devil offered.

     The woman grunted.  “No.  Do you think I’m stupid?  I know what a tomato is, thank you.  No, that other topping.  It’s runny.”

     “Ketchup?” the devil said.

     “Yes, that’s it.  No ketchup.”

     Carrie felt her heart start to beat faster.  She gestured wordlessly for Andy and Danielle to look at the devil’s hands.  She gripped the sides of the register with so much force that she left dents in the plastic.  Her skin looked like it was trying to go back to its natural red color, but she still fought it.

     “Ma’am,” the devil said in a tone that made it quite obvious that she didn’t care if the woman took offense to the term or not.  “There is no ketchup on the Supreme.  I told you.”

     Carrie put her hands to her mouth.  That was definitely a rude thing to say, but it still wasn’t enough to offset Danielle’s horrible performance.

     The woman narrowed her eyes at the devil.  “And I told you that I didn’t want a Supreme.  I clearly said that I wanted the Deluxe.”

     The devil bit her lip as she voided the order again and re-rang the burger.  “That will be three-sixty-five, then.”

     The woman started to rummage around in her purse.  “I have a coupon for a dollar off.”

     The devil entered the coupon into the register.  “Two-sixty-five.”  The woman handed her the money.  There was no coupon.

     “The coupon?” the devil said.  The woman blinked at her like she was speaking a foreign language.

     “What about it?”

     “You said you had one.”

     “I do.  It’s at home.”

     The devil started voiding out the order again.  There was no hiding the venom in her voice, and Carrie thought she could actually see smoke coming out of her ears.  The scent of brimstone suddenly filled the air, but the woman didn’t seem to notice.  “Three-sixty-five.”

     “But I have a coupon!”

     “You have to have the coupon with you in order for it to work!”

     “No one ever told me that!  If that’s your policy then you should have it posted somewhere!”

     “I can’t give you the coupon price without the coupon.”

     “Where’s your supervisor?  I want to speak to your supervisor!”   The woman raised her voice to a ridiculous level and slammed her fist down on the counter.  “I want my burger for two-sixty-five!  I demand that I get satisfaction!”

     Carrie expected that to be the last straw, that the devil would finally snap and say something nasty to the woman.  But the devil didn’t say anything at all.  Instead she snapped her fingers and set the woman on fire.

     “Holy crap!” Carrie screamed.  “Danielle, grab the fire extinguisher!”  She could barely hear herself over the woman’s cries as she started running back and forth in a panic in front of the register.

     “I don’t know where the fire extinguisher is!” Danielle said.

     “Andy, grab the fire extinguisher!” Carrie said.  He didn’t run for the extinguisher, though.  Instead he grabbed the bucket into which he had been emptying the shake mix.  Carrie turned to the devil who, despite a brief moment of satisfaction on her face after she had snapped her fingers, now looked absolutely horrified at herself.  “Hey,” Carrie screamed at her.  “Put her out!”

     The devil snapped her fingers again and the woman went back to normal.  There was no damage whatsoever to her or her clothes, although her screaming continued for a few seconds more.  The screaming cut short when Andy, already in the process of throwing the bucket, dowsed her in melting chocolate shake.  The woman stood there for several moments, wiping the shake off her face and staring at the four people behind the counter.

     “Well!” the woman said.  “See if I ever eat here again!”  She turned and tried to run out the door, but she ended up slipping twice in the shake on her shoes before she finally made it out.

     The devil sighed.  “Thing is, I know I’m going to see her again.  It’s a little known fact that there’s a special place reserved in Hell for anyone who comes into a restaurant when they’re trying to close.”

     Carrie, Danielle, and Andy were all quiet for several seconds before Danielle spoke.  “So… what does this mean?  Does this mean we win?”

     The devil nodded.  It was such a surprising sight that Carrie almost doubted her eyes, but the devil appeared to be on the edge of tears.  “You win.  I failed to keep my temper, and you and Carrie get to keep your souls.”

     “Yes!”  Danielle pumped her fist into the air and proceeded to do something like a jig past the fryers.  Andy watched as Carrie talked to the devil.

     “So what happens to you, then?” Carrie asked.

     “At best they fire me.  At the worst they continue to employ me but make me clean toilet stalls instead of collect souls.”

     “Why is that the worst?” Carrie asked.  “You’d still have a job.”

     The devil snorted.  “Obviously you’ve never seen a toilet stall in Hell.”  She changed back into her real form, and Carrie couldn’t ignore how surreal it was to see a seven-foot tall demon with a tears streaming down her red cheeks.  Strangely enough, this didn’t seem fair.  Here was someone who had worked hard for something like four hundred years only for all of it to suddenly mean nothing.  In the mean time, Danielle got out of the consequences of her actions all because of a fluke.  Carrie took a deep breath, making sure this was really the decision she wanted to make, then spoke to the devil in a whisper that Danielle couldn’t hear.

     “You know, I really like my soul right where it is.”

     The devil sniffed.  “Huh?  I don’t think I follow you.”

     Carrie shrugged.  “If I were to keep my soul, then maybe… you know… I might not have seen you freak out on that lady.  As the one judging the challenge I might still say that you won.”

     The devil raised her eyebrows.  “Are you serious?  You’d do that for me?  But what about your friend Danielle.”

     “She’s no friend of mine,” Carrie said.  She looked back at Danielle in time to see her pick her nose and then flick what she had found into the nearest fryer.  “And I’m dead serious.  What’s the point of her keeping her soul if she never uses it?”

     The devil wiped away her tears.  “So is it official then?  I win?”

     “Only if it’s official that I keep my soul.”

     “Deal,” the devil said, and her smile returned.  This time it looked genuine.  “Okay, Danielle, time to go.”

     Danielle stopped in the process of reaching for her other nostril.  “What?  No, wait, I won!”

     The devil grabbed Danielle by the arm and pulled her toward the back door.  “Stop squirming.  We’re wasting valuable torture time.”  As she reached the door, the devil turned around and looked at Carrie, gesturing for her to come closer.  “Thank you.  Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”

     “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Carrie said, “but I kind of hope not.”

     “Right,” the devil said.  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “And don’t worry.  That little slimeball can’t deal worth shit, so you’ll snap out of it sooner than he suspects.”

     “Huh?” Carrie asked.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

     “You will.  And when you do, remember to aim for his soft bits.” 

     The devil nodded at her, gave a smirk to Andy, and then pulled Danielle out screaming into the night.

     Andy narrowed his eyes at Carrie as she approached him and put an arm around his waist.  “What did she say to you?” he asked.

     Carrie shrugged.  “Not a clue.”  Then she smiled at him, following it up with a deep kiss.

The End

(c) 2010 Derek Goodman

25
Jan
10

The Devil and Danielle the Fry Cook – Part 1

Welcome back!

Before we get to this week’s story, I want to mention the mystery event I talked about in last week’s post.  I said that I would soon be ending the short stories on this blog but they would be replaced by something else.  I then said that it would be a good idea for any fans of the blog to buy a copy of The Apocalypse Shift from Amazon before that happened.  I figured that, for all my cryptic talk, most people would still be able to figure out what was going to start appearing here as of February 15.  My original intention was to not actually say what the mystery event was until it actually happened. 

Well, I’ve changed my mind, and I’m announcing it now: as soon as I run out of stories set in the AS universe, I will start serializing Apocalypse Shift 2.

I’ll be posting the novel here one chapter at a time.  I’ll likely be doing one a week, although I’m getting far enough ahead on the project that I’m considering possibly posting two chapters a week, one on Monday and one on Thursday.  I’ll have a better idea about how to approach that as the time comes closer, I think.

While the sequel is written in such a way that you dont’ exactly have to have read the first book to understand it, I still suggest reading The Apocalypse Shift before you read the second book, as book 2 will be chock full of spoilers from book 1.

Okay then, on to today’s story.  I hope you enjoy!

Derek J. Goodman

The Devil and Danielle the Fry Cook – Part 1

     It was only on a hunch that Carrie took a position at Burger Master, although she did definitely need the job.  Just because she had gotten multiple scholarships based on her soaring grades didn’t mean she was financially secure.  Other than paying for college she still needed to keep a roof over her head and something other than ramen in her cupboard.  A few of her schoolmates, even ones late in their twenties like Carrie was, still lived at home and depended on their parents to pay for school.  Carrie could have lived at home, but her parents were hardly rich and she knew what kind of burden she would be if she expected that kind of thing from them.  Other people who didn’t care about things like that made her sick.

     But there were a lot better jobs than shift supervisor at Burger Master.  Carrie could have had them easily, but she had wanted this one.  The hours were terrible and the pay sucked, but most other jobs didn’t have a coworker who had sold her soul to the Devil.

     Carrie didn’t have solid proof that Danielle had done it, but these sorts of things left trails that could be followed if you knew where to look.  She was well aware that her obsession could be construed as morbid, which was why she took great care to hide it.  She went to school for Library Science because she enjoyed books and loved stories.  She wanted to surround herself with them, study them, understand them on some deeper level than all the people who virtually ignored them in this modern world.  And as she had studied she couldn’t help but start to believe that some stories, the old ones that lasted for generations simply by word of mouth alone, had some truth to them.  She’d found obscure references in some books and newspapers to people who claimed they had actually met Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.  One con artist in Colorado insisted for years, even on his death bed, that he himself had been conned by the Tooth Fairy.  Carrie wasn’t sure about any of those stories, but tales of selling your soul to the Devil and then winning it back in some competition?  She’d now seen with her own eyes what she believed to be proof.

     Just because she believed such a thing was possible didn’t mean she wanted to try it out just to be sure.  She was not a religious person and got annoyed at anybody who followed religion blindly, but if she believed a soul was real enough that it could be sold then it was probably something she wanted to keep.  If she wasn’t willing sell it herself, though, it had never seemed likely that she would prove her hypothesis.  Then she had come in one day for lunch at the Burger Master on Speer Boulevard and a young woman had taken her order.

     Danielle was just a few years out of high school and kind of pretty, but she would have been gorgeous if she cared about her looks at all.  Her hair didn’t appear to have even been combed in a week and there was a stain on the sleeve of her uniform that looked like it would come out easily if she only washed it.  When she had taken Carrie’s order she had been surly, acting like making her use the register was the rudest thing Carrie could possibly do.  These were details that Carrie didn’t register until later, though.  What Carrie did notice was the odor coming off the girl.  There were actually several odors that Carrie noticed, mostly grease from the fry vats along with just a hint of body odor and even pot.  But underneath it all, just faint enough that Carrie hadn’t entirely been sure it wasn’t her imagination at first, was the smell of sulfur.  After a little discreet research Carrie had been almost certain.  Danielle had in fact made a deal with the Devil.

     Carrie had gotten the job easily enough and had quickly proven herself to be capable of supervising.  Even though Danielle had worked there longer and would have been next in line for a supervisor position, she hadn’t complained.  That would have implied that Danielle had even the smallest ambition at all to become more in life, and after only a few times working with her Carrie realized that was something Danielle lacked.  Despite the fact that Danielle had actually been the reason she took this job and Carrie wanted Danielle to eventually trust her enough to confide about the whole soul selling thing, Carrie couldn’t help but feel some disdain at the girl.

     So that was how it was when they worked, tolerating each other but not liking each other, until the day the Devil came in and ordered a hamburger.

     It was a Monday evening.  Monday’s were never that busy, and the crew at Burger Master was the bare minimum.  Danielle was at the fry station, Carrie manned the front counter and the drive-thru, and a teenager named Andy made the burgers.  Andy seemed like a nice enough kid, but Carrie didn’t feel comfortable working with him.  She couldn’t help but think he maybe had a crush on her.  He tended to get even more awkward than normal around her, and despite her uniform hiding what little figure she had she still caught him staring at her chest once in a while when he thought she wasn’t paying attention.  He was a good worker, though, ten times better than Danielle, so she was going to tolerate him tonight.

     What little dinner rush they expected tonight would start sometime around five, so by four-thirty Carrie was trying to make sure they had enough burgers ready to go in the freezer next to the broiler and plenty of fries on the basket rack.  Andy was wiping down the front tables but Danielle had disappeared to the bathroom for the third time in the last hour.  Carrie was so busy fuming to herself and wondering if there was really anything wrong with killing someone who’s soul was forfeit that she didn’t notice the door chime go off as someone came in.  She didn’t even realize anyone was standing at the register until she heard the girl clear her throat.

     “Oh, sorry!” Carrie said as she walked up to the counter.  “I didn’t see you there.”

     “That’s okay,” the girl said.  “I’m not the kind of person people tend to notice.”  Carrie wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a joke or not.  To Carrie the girl certainly looked like exactly the kind who was easily noticed.  People tended to pay attention to perky teenage blonds with incredibly short skirts and huge breasts.  The girl smiled and showed off impossibly white teeth.  “Double burger with extra bacon, please.  And extra mayo.  And a jumbo order of fries.  Oh, and onion rings.”

     Carrie started ringing all that up, all the while wondering how any woman could eat like that and still keep such a ridiculous figure.  She didn’t think such a thing would be possible without selling your soul to…

     Carrie’s gaze instantly snapped away from the register keys and back to the girl.  No.  No way.  There was no way that this could be…  Or could it?

     The girl frowned.  “Is something wrong?”

     Carrie struggled to keep her thoughts straight.  “No, of course not.  There’s nothing… uh, right, uh, would you like anything to drink with that?”

     “No thank you.  But maybe you could help me with something else.  I was coming here to visit a friend, but I don’t see her around.  Is Danielle here?”

     Carrie paused.  Holy crap, this was really happening.  Even though a part of her had been hoping for this moment, the moment where she finally saw the truth in so many old stories, she had never really thought it would come.  And she certainly had never expected how much effort it took to avoid crapping her pants.

     The girl raised an eyebrow at her.  “You’ve figured it out, huh?  I don’t think I’ve ever made a deal with you, though.  So how is it you know who I am?”

     “Er, um… I read things… uh, study stuff and stories… yeah.  Uh.”

     “Carrie?”  Andy was walking up to the counter, the sanitizer rag for the tables still in hand.  “Is something wrong?”  He glanced at the girl but didn’t seem to see anything interesting at first.  Then he did a double take, his gaze finally coming to rest on the tightness of her shirt.  The girl ignored him, keeping her focus on Carrie.

     “Look, you don’t need to be afraid,” the girl said.  “Just tell me where Danielle is and then I can make you forget I was even here.”

     Carrie didn’t know what was scarier: the thought that the Devil was in fact standing right in front of her or the possibility that she might not even remember this later.  Before she could say anything in protest, however, the door behind the counter opened from the back hallway and Danielle came back in.  She was too busy looking at her hands- a suspicious smudge on them made Carrie think she hadn’t even bothered to wash them- to notice the girl at first.  When she finally looked up she stopped in her tracks.

     “Oh,” Danielle said.  “Oh crap.”

     The girl smiled.  “There you are.”  Her perfect white teeth started to turn a sickly yellow and each one grew to a sharp point.  “Danielle Koplopski, the time has come.”  The girl slowly grew until she was nearly seven feet tall, and her skin darkened to a deep red. 

     “Holy…!  What the hell!” Andy screamed, tripping over his own feet as he tried to back away from the creature and falling flat on his butt.  The Devil didn’t even acknowledge him.  The skin on her forehead ripped open and two massive ram-like horns curled up out of the holes.  Her shoes changed to hooves and the air suddenly stank of brimstone.

     “According to the contract you signed with Hell one year ago today, your soul is now mine,” she said to Danielle.  “You can either give it to me quietly or I can rip you apart first and use your spleen as a urinal cake.  Your choice.”  With no effort the Devil jumped over the counter and landed between Danielle and Carrie.

     “No, wait, that wasn’t the agreement!” Danielle said as she started to back away.  “This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen!”

     This was exactly the way it always occured in folklore, Carrie realized.  Or maybe not quite.  Before she could think, before it occurred to her that it was perhaps not a good idea, she spoke.  “She can challenge you.”

     The Devil spun around to look down on Carrie, and for the first time since she came in, the Devil looked less than happy.  “Oh, please say you didn’t say that.”

     Carrie paused, thinking maybe it would be better to say she didn’t say that and the Devil could just continue on with her soul collecting, but that wasn’t how all this was supposed to work.  Carrie knew the rules, or at least she thought she did, and this was the only opportunity Danielle would have at not getting sucked into Hell.

     “She can challenge you to some sort of contest to keep her soul, right?  That’s how it always works in the stories.”

     Danielle flashed Carrie a look that was somewhere between hopeful and uncomprehending.  The Devil sighed and, even though she kept her new demonic shape, started shrinking back to her original size.  “Damn it,” the Devil said.  “I’ve gone through the last twenty soul collections without anybody knowing that rule.  What did you say your name was?”

     Carrie gulped.  “I didn’t.  And I don’t think I should tell you.”

     “Oh, come on.  Don’t be overly dramatic.  It’s not like I can do anything to you just because I know your name.  I just want to know who I’m dealing with.”  She shrugged.  “It’s only polite.”

     “Uh… Carrie.  Carrie Salinger.”

     “Well, Carrie Salinger, since you seem to know what you’re doing and Danielle here is clueless, I guess it would only be fair to give you a few minutes to confer with her.”  The Devil held her hand out palm up, and after a small burst of flame a legal-sized document sat in her hand.  “Here’s the contract.  You can look it over with her.  You have ten minutes to come up with the challenge and its terms.”  She handed Carrie the contract.  Maybe Carrie wasn’t reading demon body language right, but the Devil actually seemed to be depressed.  “But it would really be nice if we could get this over with as soon as possible.  I’m already on overtime and I’ve been on my feet all day.”

*    *    *

     Danielle and Andy went to sit in a booth in a far corner of Burger Master while Carrie took a couple moments with the Devil to make sure she had any important rules they might need in deciding.  When they were finished, Carrie left the Devil behind the counter and went to join the other two.

     “Would someone please explain to me what is going on?” Andy said.  “I mean, is that who I think it is?”

     Carrie set Danielle’s contract on the table and slid into the booth next to Andy.  Normally she wasn’t very comfortable being this close to him, but for once his attention was on someone other than her.  She couldn’t help but notice that, despite the Devil’s current demonic form, he still stared at her breasts.  Danielle slumped across from them, her jaw slack and her eyes wide and focused on nothing.  “Yep,” Carrie said.  “And I would think it’s obvious what’s going on.  Danielle is pretty close to screwed.”

     “Are you sure it’s a good idea to leave her back there?” Andy said.  Carrie looked towards the back to see the Devil take a basket of fries and set it in the fryer.  “What if a customer comes in and sees her?”

     “She said it would be okay,” Carrie said.  “According to her, this neighborhood is used to strange things.  Also she apparently surrounded the entire store in a kind of time bubble to keep us separate from the rest of reality until we decide what we’re going to do.  I couldn’t really follow what she was saying about it.  The whole description was very Hawking.”

     “So what are we going to do?” he asked.

     “What do you mean, we?  You don’t have to be involved in this if you don’t want to.”

     Andy shrugged and edged himself closer to Carrie.  “Hey, neither do you.  I’m willing do whatever I need to if I can, as long as you don’t go putting my soul on the line in the process.  If anyone’s going to be selling my soul then it’ll be me.”

     Carrie raised an eyebrow at that.  “Whatever, as long as Danielle doesn’t mind you helping.  Do you?”  She pointed this last question at Danielle, but she was still slumped and staring at the table.  Carrie snapped her fingers in front of Danielle’s face.  “Hey, earth to Danielle!  Snap out of it.”

     Danielle finally looked at Carrie.  “Is this really for real?  Could I really lose my soul here?”

     Carrie sighed.  “Yes, Danielle.  What the hell did you think would happen when you sold your soul?”

     Danielle shook her head.  “I guess I didn’t really believe it.  I mean, I did have to go to a crossroads at midnight to find her, and she did have horns when she made me sign in my own blood, but I figured maybe I was just seeing things because I was stoned.”

     “Well, I hope it was worth it,” Andy said.  “What did you sell it for, anyway?”

     Carrie snorted.  “I know what it was.  Take a look.”  She slid the contract over for him to look at it.

     “Well, it sure as hell wasn’t beauty or riches,” Andy said.  He picked up the contract and looked it over for a few seconds before his eyes went wide.  “Are you kidding me?  I can’t be reading this right.”

     “Nope,” Carrie said.  “You’re reading it right.”

     “But… Danielle, this says you sold your soul for an Xbox.”  He studied it for a few seconds longer before dropping it back to the table.  “A plain old Xbox.  You didn’t even ask for a 360.”

     Danielle shrugged.  “That was all I wanted that day.”

     “But you didn’t even keep it,” Carrie said.  “That’s how I knew what you had done.  I tracked down the video game store you sold it to.  They can’t even sell it because it burns everything it touches and smells like sulfur.”

     Danielle shrugged again.  “I got the munchies one day and didn’t have any cash.”

     “Wow,” Andy said.  “That’s all I can say.  Just… wow.”

     “Never mind that for now,” Carrie said.  “We need to figure out what we’re going to do to save her soul.”

     “Hey, I think I read a story like this in American Lit Class once, something about a lawyer,” Andy said.  “Can’t we call on the guy from the story?  Have the Devil bring him back to life long enough to argue Danielle’s case?  His name was… uh, I can’t really remember.”

     “Daniel Webster,” Carrie said.  “And no, we can’t.  The Devil specifically pointed that out to me in the contract.  Apparently after that story came out too many people tried doing it.”  Carrie took a closer look at the contract.  “Huh.  Also, for the same reason, we can’t call on Johnny Cochrane.”

     “Then you can’t do anything?” Danielle asked.  “Why the hell did you even stop her if you can’t do anything?”

     “But we can do something.”  Carrie positioned the contract where they could all get a good look and pointed to a line of fine print.  “All soul-selling contracts have one last chance for the seller to redeem themselves, a challenge-clause.  The seller can challenge the Devil to any sort of contest they want.  If they win the seller keeps his or her soul.  If they lose, though… oh, wait.”  Carrie picked up the contract and read the fine print closer.  She felt her breath catch in her throat.  “It says here that someone else has to vouch for the seller during the contest.  If the seller loses, then the person who vouched for them loses his or her soul as well.”

     Carrie looked at Danielle, who had gone back to staring at the table, then at Andy.  Andy shook his head and held up his hands.  “Uh-uh, don’t look at me.  I’m not going to risk my soul for her.  Now if it were you, then hell yeah I’d do it but…”

     “Andy, just shut up for a minute,” Carrie said.  She set down the contract and stared at Danielle for a long moment.  Was she really willing to risk her soul for this girl?  This lazy, unremarkable girl who was unwilling to try in even the slightest way to make something of her life?  Danielle wasn’t sure, but how could she live with herself if she didn’t?  It was a huge choice, and one she would have to make quickly before…

     “Hey, Carrie?” Andy said as he looked at the contract.  “You do realize that you already volunteered your soul, right?”

     “What?”

     “It says so right here.”  He handed the contract back to her and pointed to a line of text.  “When you challenged the Devil on Danielle’s behalf, that counted as vouching for her.”

     Carrie read the line then let loose with every curse word she had ever learned in her life.  “I guess that’s it then.  I’m in this.”

     Danielle looked hopefully at Carrie.  “So you’ll help me?”

     “I guess I will,” Carrie said.  She waited for Danielle to say something in the way of thanks, but she didn’t.  “All right then, we’ve got to figure out what the challenge is going to be.”

     “What kind of challenge can it be?” Andy asked.

     “Anything, really.  Musical challenges are popular in the old stories.  Danielle, can you play any instruments or sing or anything?”

     Danielle shrugged then sang the first line of “The Star Spangled Banner.”  It sounded like she was stepping on baby mice.

     “Okay, so no on that,” Carrie said.

     “What about chess?” Andy asked.  “Aren’t there stories where people play chess against the Devil?”

     “Not the Devil, the Grim Reaper,” Carrie said.  “But I guess the principle is the same.  Are you any good at games?”

     Danielle shook her head.

     “Not even video games?  For christ sakes, you sold your soul for a game console!”

     Danielle shrugged again.  “I didn’t really play it that much.”

     Carrie struggled to keep her frustration from showing on the surface.  “Danielle, isn’t there anything you’re good at?  Both our souls depend on this.”

     Danielle appeared to think about this for a moment.  The action looked like it physically hurt her.  “Not really.  I don’t do much.  I guess I eat.  And sleep.  And work here.”

     “That’s it?” Carrie said.  “You can’t think of anything else?”

     “Nope.”

     Carrie sighed.  “Then I guess that’s what we’ll have to work with.”  She stood up.  “Come on.”

     Andy and Danielle followed her back to the counter.  In addition to the fries, the Devil had made her own burger, and she was about to ring it all up in the register before they returned.  “Okay, we’ve got it,” Carrie said.  “We challenge you to work here.”

     The Devil had been leaning against the counter, but at Carrie’s words she stood ramrod straight.  Carrie hadn’t realized the Devil was capable of looking horrified.  “Oh come on.  You’ve got to be kidding.”

     Carrie took a deep breath before she continued.  She was making all this up as she went.  There were so many ways this could backfire, but it was all she could do.  Danielle didn’t give her much to go on.  “Until the end of the shift.  You work and Danielle works.  Whoever’s better at the job, whoever is the cleanest, the quickest, the most polite to customers, she’s the winner.”

     The Devil didn’t appear happy, which Carrie could only think counted in their favor.  “And who’ll be the one to judge to say who’s better?”

     Carrie shrugged.  “I’m the supervisor.  I guess I will.”

     “You do realize your soul is on the line, too, right?  How do I know you’ll judge fairly?”

     “Would it help if I swore on the Bible?”

     “Do you believe in the Bible?”

     “Not really.”

     “Then no.  What do you believe in?”

     Carrie shrugged again.  “Knowledge?  Stories?  Maybe if I swore on my textbooks?”

     The Devil looked her in the eyes, looked deep, and Carrie felt an uncomfortable probing sensation like all the contents of her head were being randomly flipped through.  After several seconds, the Devil sighed.

     “Yeah, seems like you mean it.  Okay then, I guess we’ll get this challenge started, huh?”  Her horns slowly retracted into her head and her whole form once more became the perky blond, but now she wore a Burger Master uniform.  Her nametag proclaimed “Hi!  I’m Lucy Irons!  In training!”

     “Just let me finish ringing up my meal first,” the Devil said.  She produced some money from a newly formed pocket, then deftly punched her order into the register.  Carrie felt a sinking sensation in her stomach.  She herself still didn’t know the register well enough to ring in an order that fast.  “Do I get an employee discount?”

     “Um, yeah,” Carrie said.  “Say, you haven’t by any chance worked in a place like this before, have you?”

     The Devil nodded, but she didn’t appear proud of herself.  “Of course I have.  If there’s any place in existence with an overabundance of fast food restaurants, it’s Hell.”

     It might have just been her imagination, but Carrie thought she could actually feel her soul slipping away.

To Be Continued

(c) 2010 Derek Goodman

18
Jan
10

Spazmatic Magic

Hello, and welcome back again.  An especially big hi and hello to all the new readers who’ve come here over the last week or two from HorrorNews and Rhiannon Frater’s blog.  I hope everyone has been enjoying all the AS stories that have been appearing here, and from what feedback I’ve gotten, people are enjoying it [a side note: please don’t be afraid to leave feedback!]  So with the blog starting to reach a bigger audience, I have this announcement to make:

I’m going to stop putting stories on here.

“Wait, what?” I hear you say.  (Or at least I think I hear you say it.  That might just be the voices again).  “Why would you stop putting stories on the blog, especially since you just got done saying how good things are going?”  Well, really, this blog wasn’t intended to last forever.  I thought it would be cool to write a bunch of extra stories in the AS universe as a way to promote my novel The Apocalypse Shift, and then Dr. Pus from Library of Horror accepted the stories as a collection.  I wrote enough to fill out the collection, but I didn’t want to continue doing this forever.  I wanted to go on to other things. 

But that doesn’t mean this is ending just now.  I still have a month worth of stories to put here on the blog.  After that, weekly updates to this blog will continue.

“Wait, what?” I hear you say again (damned voices.)  “You just said that you were going to stop doing the blog.”

No, I didn’t.  I said I was going to stop, at least for now, doing stories on the blog.  So if I’m not going to be posting stories on my Apocalypse Shift fiction blog, then what am I going to be posting here?

Hmmmmmmm.

In a related matter, if you hadn’t yet, this would be a really good time to buy The Apocalypse Shift from Amazon.  No, really.  Really REALLY.  You should read it before the last story appears here.  You might regret it if you don’t.

So, on to this week’s story.  Thank you for reading!

Derek J. Goodman

Spazmatic Magic

     The Z-Wash Coin Laundry was otherwise empty, so Jackie took off her shirt, decided to take a picture of herself like that with her camera phone, put on another random shirt from her basket, and took another picture, this time with her tongue sticking out while she gave herself bunny ears.  She’d forgotten to bring a book with her and for some reason she couldn’t access Facebook from her phone just now, so she had a lot of time on her hands while she waited for the last of her laundry to dry.  She sat on the folding table for several moments, singing loudly and badly to herself, then jumped back down and started to walk around washers for no particular reason. 

     The apartment building Jackie had lived in for the last couple weeks had its own set of washers and dryers, but all the other students had apparently had the same urge for non-stinky clothes at the same time as her, so she hadn’t been able to get to them all day.  She needed clean clothes for tomorrow, since she thought maybe she might actually attend class for a change, and this place was the only laundromat within walking distance.  When she’d asked around about it people had told her that she probably shouldn’t go here, that it would be much safer if she didn’t leave the building at night, but she hadn’t paid any attention to that.  She wasn’t afraid of anything the neighborhood of the Hill had to throw at her, no matter what strange stories she heard from the other students.  She could defend herself from anyone that might come after her.  If someone attacked, she could just use that jar of pickles she had in her purse.  Several people had seemed weirded out when she said she kept a jar of pickles on her at all times, which of course was exactly the reason she needed to carry them.  But she figured, too, that a pickle jar smashed against a potential rapist’s face would be a pretty good deterrent.

     She was kind of surprised the laundromat had been empty the entire time she’d been in here.  The sign out front said it was open twenty-four hours, but she still thought people would be more likely to come earlier rather than later.  There wasn’t even an attendant or anything to watch over the place.  That didn’t seem professional.  What was to prevent her from just picking up a washer and walking out the door with it?  Other than the fact that a washer weighed a ton, of course.

     After making three and a half circuits around the washers (the half being the point at the end where she had gotten bored with going around and had just crawled over the top of them to get back where she had begun), she went back to her laundry basket and set it on the folding table.  Folding!  That was something she could do.  She didn’t think she had folded anything for a while.  She grabbed three shirts and started folding them together, decided that wasn’t quite how it was supposed to go, then tried folding just one shirt.  She didn’t really like that either, too boring, so she compromised and began folding all her shirts together in groups of two.

     That ended up leaving her with one t-shirt left over by itself, so just so it wouldn’t feel left out, she decided it needed some extra special attention by itself and ripped the tag out from the back of its collar.

     Her phone immediately started to ring, the sound of a cuckoo clock.  She waited until the fifth cuckoo and answered it.

     “Jaydubb’s International House of Awesome,” she said.  “Jaydubb speaking.  Will this be pick up or delivery?”

     There was a moment of quiet on the other end as though the other person didn’t know what to say (which was a common response when she answered the phone), then a deep, crackly voice hissed at her.  “Five hours.”

     Jackie wasn’t used to being confused.  Usually, if she was doing her job, it was everyone around her that ended up puzzled.  “Um, hey there.”

     Again there was a confused pause.  “Hey,” the voice said.  “Five hours.”

     “Five hours to what?”

     “Five hours until you die.”

     Jackie blinked.  “Why the hell would I die in five hours?”

     “You violated the rules.  The laws of nature.  You have offended all of order and chaos throughout the universe.”

     “Really?  That’s cool.  But how did I do that?”

     The voice sounded thoroughly baffled when it spoke again.  Maybe it wasn’t used to people asking so many questions.  From the sound of it, Jackie would guess some people might find the voice scary.  She just found it to be an interesting way to pass the time.

     “You did what you should not,” it said.  “You just did exactly what the tag said not to.”

     “The tag?”  Jackie looked down at the ripped-out shirt tag still in her hand.  “I didn’t machine wash warm?”

     “You ripped it off the shirt!” the voice said.  It sounded exasperated now.  “It clearly says do not remove tag from shirt.  You violated one of the ancient laws of the cosmos!”

     “Oh, okay,” Jackie said.  And she hung up.

     She started to put her phone in her pocket when it rang again.  “Senor Jaydubb’s Fantastic Funk Factory.”

     “Five hours!”

     She hung up again.

     Jackie finished folding the shirt, then sat down in the nearest chair for a rare moment of introspection.  That phone call had been weird.  Normally she just went with the flow with weird stuff, but that had been weirder than usual.  That had been horror movie weird.  And she knew that a smart person couldn’t just ignore horror movie weird. 

     She had been warned that something like this might happen, too.  As much as she didn’t want to ask for help, she supposed that was the only good idea at the moment.

     Jackie pulled the phone out of her pocket again and scrolled through her contacts to the Ws.  After three rings, someone picked up on the other line.

     “Hi, Aunt Wylma?  Remember when you said I should call you if anything strange happened?”

*    *    *

     Wylma twisted the damp rag she’d been using to wipe down the bar in her hands.  The Snake’s Sanctum was slow tonight, as it usually was for a Monday, but there were still too many people in here for her liking.  If Jackie was going to be here soon, Wylma wasn’t sure she wanted the girl to see the crowd Wylma usually served.

     There were only five customers in the bar at the moment, but not all of them could technically be considered humans.  Three of them, two men and a woman, were dressed in white lab coats covered in black leather jackets.  The other two were a chimpanzee that had been implanted with the brain of a Hell’s Angel and a shiny silver robot that had been programmed to only speak in Steppenwolf lyrics.

     Wylma tossed the rag down on the bar.  “Okay, everyone.  Sorry to do this to you, but I’ve got to close down the bar early.”

     The three biker mad scientists mumbled to themselves but started for the door.  The chimpanzee didn’t seem too pleased, though.  “Hey bitch, I ain’t got my drunk on enough yet!”

     Wylma would have whispered some nasty spell at the primate, but thankfully she didn’t need to.  Instead the robot smacked the chimp upside the back of his head.  “Getcher motor running,” the robot said.

     “Hey,” the chimp said.  “Since when did you become the boss a’ me?”

     The robot smacked him again.  “Head out on the highway.”

     Finally the chimp relented and they all left, leaving Wylma alone to turn off the “Open” sign.  Maybe that had been unnecessary given the circumstances, but she still felt better knowing that she would do this without anyone else around as a distraction.  Wylma’s sister had always done everything in her power to keep Jackie away from Wylma, but Wylma had known this day would come.  Part of that had been because Jackie had seemed different ever since she’d been a baby.  Another part had been because, two weeks ago, a glass of beer had told Wylma about tonight.

     Wylma grabbed the nearest semi-clean glass and did a few esoteric hand gestures over it while muttering a simple rhyme.  There was a popping noise as the glass filled with a scotch and soda, although mostly soda.  She wanted to calm her nerves for this, not get drunk.  She also had an unfortunate tendency to give every drink she magiced into existence a lemony flavor, and it would have been a crime to ruin good scotch like that.

     She wondered idly as she drank just how much Jackie really knew about any of this, but she supposed the answer was likely “not much.”  Jackie had always seemed off in her own world, and although she was smart, it was still hard to tell how much she actually paid attention to anything.  Corinne, Jackie’s mother and Wylma’s sister, thought she knew a lot about Wylma’s lifestyle and had forbidden Jackie to ever be a part of it, but Wylma had always thought Jackie would come to her.  The fact that Jackie had chosen to go to a college right on the edge of the Hill, the center of Wylma’s strange world, had only been a confirmation of that.

     Wylma’s niece was about to become a part of this world, one way or another.  But if Jackie approached this the same way she approached everything else, then Wylma didn’t think this would be easy.  Wylma said a few more incantations and made a bottle of aspirin appear on the bar.  It would probably taste like lemons, too, but Wylma would need them anyway.

     Wylma saw Jackie approaching through the window, but Jackie didn’t look too terribly concerned about her situation.  Jackie had explained what had happened over the phone, or had at least tried to in her typical no-attention-span way, and Wylma would have thought that the girl would at least be a little scared.  Instead Jackie looked like she didn’t have a care in the world.  She was much more intent on balancing her full laundry basket on top of her head. 

     Jackie looked genuinely pleased to be here as she opened the door and walked in.  Her curly blonde hair was streaked with purple this week, which clashed completely with her bright yellow t-shirt and flannel pajama pants.  Just the mere sight of the girl was already threatening to give Wylma a headache.

     Wylma popped a few of the aspirin as a preemptive measure.

     “Aunt Wylma!” Jackie said a weirdly macho voice as she set her laundry basket on the nearest table before bounding over to the bar to give Wylma a hug.  Despite the situation, Wylma threw her arms wide and grasped her niece from across the bar.  Even though Corrine had done her best to keep the two of them apart over the years, there was no doubt that they were related.  Wylma noticed that Jackie had at some point drawn smiley faces and rainbows all over her arms in pen, creating an almost mirror image of the cheery Disney tattoos that adorned Wylma’s own arms. 

     “Honey, it’s so good to see you!” Wylma said.  “What have you been up to?”

     “Having my life threatened by a mysterious all crackly voice.  It was awesome.  How about you?”

     Wylma nodded, trying not to show any exasperation.  She knew that others considered her exuberant, but she had nothing on this girl.  Jackie’s personality might make some of what Wylma had to show her a little tougher than usual. 

     “Okay, honey,” Wylma said.  “Tell me exactly what…”

     “Jaydubb.”

     “What?” Wylma asked.

     “Call me Jaydubb.”

     “Why?”

     “Why not?  Hey, I totally got to show you what I can do.”  Before Wylma could say anything more, Jackie reached over the bar and grabbed three salt and pepper shakers.  She started to juggle them, spraying salt and pepper everywhere, but she dropped one after only a few seconds.

     “Just wait, I can do this,” Jackie said as she bent down to grab the lost salt shaker.

     “Jackie, honey…”

     “Jaydubb.”

     “Jaydubb, whatever, you need to focus.  Your life may actually be in serious danger.”

     Jackie gave the shakers a few more throws, then caught them all out of the air, slammed them down on the bar, and plopped onto a bar stool.  “And I’m listening.”

     “Jack… uh, Jaydubb, I don’t think you really understand what’s happening.”

     “So what is happening?  Seriously, those phone calls were freaky.  When I looked at the caller ID, it said the caller was ‘From Hell.’  I totally got a call from a Johnny Depp movie!”

     “Well yes, you… wait, huh?  No.  Okay, hold on.  What I mean is…”

     For the first time since she had entered the bar, Jackie’s voice took on a serious tone.  “You’re a witch, aren’t you?”

     “Why would you say that?”

     “Mom always said things about you.  Mostly I didn’t understand what she was talking about.  But I kind of figured it out.”

     “Actually, no.  I’m not a witch.  I’m a sorceress.  There’s a difference.”

     “And this neighborhood, you live here because it’s… different?  That much I figured out all by my lonesome.”

     “Yes, it is different.  There are things here, lots of scary things.  And from what you told me, it sounds like one of those things has got it in for you now.”

     “But I didn’t do anything, not really.  It was just a stupid clothing tag.”

     “There are rules around here, and you’ve got to be careful about them.  Sometimes the rules are good, like carrying religious jewelry around with you in case you need to ward something off.  Or sometimes the rules are weird and stupid, like not feeding certain creatures after midnight.”

     Jackie’s eyes went wide.  “Ooooh.  So that’s why that weird little cat-dog thing turned into a cocoon when I gave it a candy bar.”

     “You did what?”  Wylma waved a dismissive hand in the air.  “You know what?  Forget about it.  We’ll deal with that later.  For now we have to worry about whatever this thing is that says it wants to kill you.”

     Jackie picked up the shakers and began to juggle them again.

     “Jackie, pay attention!”

     “I’m listening.  And can I call you Shaker from now on?”

     “Why the hell would you call me that?”

     “Because you have salt and pepper shakers in your bar.”

     Wylma picked up the aspirin bottle and held it against her chest, wishing she knew some sort of tranquilizer spell.  She actually knew several, but none she thought were safe enough for her own flesh and blood.

     “So yes, Jackie.  I’m a sorceress, and this neighborhood is very different.  That’s why you’re here, I think.”

     “I thought I was here because of crackly-phone-voice-guy.”

     “Not here specifically at the bar.  Here on the Hill.  Jackie… Jackie, for the love of Cthulhu…”  Wylma snatched the nearest shaker out of the air, causing Jackie to drop the other two.  “Jackie, I think forces have conspired to bring you here for the same reason I ended up here.  I think you’re special.”

     “That’s what my mom always tells me, but I think she means special ed.”

     “Well that’s not what I mean, and I think you know it.  Just focus for a second and tell me: you feel something inside you, don’t you?”

     Jackie leaned on the bar but wouldn’t meet Wylma’s eyes.  “Maybe.  I don’t know.  I used to think everyone felt it.  Just… energy.  Lots and lots of energy.”

     Wylma took Jackie’s hand.  “Hon, I’ve been watching you ever since you were a little girl, even when your mom thought she was keeping me away from you.  And I have to tell you, after all this time, I really think you’ve got a gift for magic.  I think you may be a 37.65.”

     “What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

     “If you really want to save your life right now, and be able to save it again in the future, then you’ll have to learn what it means.  And you’ve got just over four hours to do it.”

*    *    *

     Aunt Wylma had a back office in her bar, but there wasn’t any desk or filing cabinets or anything like Jackie would have expected.  Instead it was bare, except for a circle etched into the floor, pictures of Winnie the Pooh and various Disney princesses pasted on the walls, and a folding table holding something that looked suspiciously like a chemistry set.

     “Is that for you to mix magic potions and stuff?” Jackie asked.

     Wylma blushed.  “Um, yeah.  Something like that.”  Jackie knew she was lying, but she wasn’t interested enough right now to push the subject.  She was excited by what her aunt had just told her, yet she wasn’t completely surprised.  She had always thought there was something more exciting and interesting about herself that the rest of the world wouldn’t acknowledge, and now she had found out she was right.

     “So does this mean I’m going to become a sorceress, too?” Jackie asked.

     “Well, not exactly.”

     “A witch then?  I’m not going to turn all green and warty, am I?”

     “Only certain kinds of witches are green, but no.  You’re not a witch either, really.”

     “So if I’m supposed to use magic but I’m not going to be a witch or a sorceress, then what am I going to be?”

     Wylma smiled.  “You, hon, are going to be a complete and total Spaz.”

     Jackie gave two thumbs up, even though she didn’t have the slightest clue what that meant.

     Wylma looked at the circle on the floor and paced around it as she talked.  “You see, when people talk about magic, they act like there’s only one kind.  But there are many different systems of magic, each one operating under its own rules.  In fact, there are 107.314 kinds that I’m aware of.”

     “How do you get the .314?”

     “Some magic counts for extra, while some don’t equal a whole system.  I guess you could just say that some magic thinks it’s better than other magic.  Some of these magic systems don’t work on the Hill, while a few others only work on the Hill.  It’s all really confusing.”

     “Actually, I don’t think that’s confusing at all.”

     “Really?”

     “No, not really.  I don’t have the slightest clue about anything you’re saying.  So why is the Hill so different to begin with?”

     “Wish I could tell you, hon.  I’ve been trying to figure that out for myself for years.  Every time I ask the beer and the peanuts about it, all they show me is some sort of bird and something that looks like a lizard.”

     Jackie thought about asking how beer and peanuts would know anything, then realized it actually made perfect sense to her.

     “So what kind of magic do you use, Shaker?” Jackie asked.

     “Please don’t call me that.  The kind I can tap into is Metatrastic Magnastimous Magic of Miidoon.  Most people just call it Strange Magic.  It comes from symbols and words arranged in a focusing manner.”

     “I hope that’s not what you think I can do, because I don’t think I can do anything I can’t spell.”

     Wylma moved Jackie to the center of the circle before making a few complicated hand gestures at the floor.  “No, like I said.  You couldn’t be a plain old sorceress.  You’re not a person that could be confined to all the rigid rituals it would require.  You’re a chaotic person.  You thrive on weirdness and anything outside the normal.  Am I right?”

     Jackie responded by pulling a live bullfrog out of her pocket.  “Oh hey, I forgot I had him in there.  Except I must have really forgotten.  I don’t remember putting him in my pocket in the first place.”

     Wylma laughed.  “Jackie, you probably didn’t, although I won’t say it’s not a possibility.  The circle you’re in is part of my own magical system.  It’s supposed to be a way I can protect myself from outside forces when working a particularly complicated spell.  But it’s also keeping any magical energy you give off from getting out.  As long as you stay within that circle, you’re energy will be amplified and will have… well, odd effects.”

     Jackie burped.  It tasted like lawn gnomes.  She wasn’t entirely sure how she knew that.

     “You called me a Spaz,” Jackie said.

     “My own word for it, since there really isn’t a word for what you are.  The magic system you seem to be able to use is sometimes called Spazmatic Magic, or just magic system 37.65.”

     Jackie thought she could feel a difference in the air around her as she stood in the circle.  She rarely drank coffee, since when she did it gave her an excess of energy capable even of annoying herself.  But when she did, this was what it felt like.  There was a tingling feeling on her skin, and she felt jittery.  She jumped up and down in place a few times, but stopped when the floor began to buckle under her and send her higher like a trampoline.

     “Whoa, that’s freaky awesome,” Jackie said.

     Aunt Wylma sighed and put a hand to her temple.  “Please don’t do that.  You see, there are people who can use the same energy as you, but they rarely do.  Know why?”

     “Because my brain feels funny?  I mean, even funnier than normal.”

     “Pretty much,” Wylma said.  “You see, when I call Spazmatic Magic a system, that’s not completely true.  On the scale of magic systems, it only really counts as one third of a system.”

     “But I thought it was number 37.65.  Isn’t that, like, two thirds or something?”

     “Well, yeah, but there’s this really pretentious system right before it on the scale, Awesome Hermetical Magic of Awesomeness, that thinks it should count for one and a third systems.  But that’s beside the point.  Spazmatic Magic doesn’t really have rules.  It’s basically a semi-controlled chaos.  You’ve had it ruling you your whole life without even knowing it.  But actually turning it into something you can use?  That’s difficult.”

     “But I can do it, right?  I can learn to use it before that whatever phone creepy thing comes for me?”  Jackie whistled for no good reason other than it seemed like the thing to do at the moment.  As soon as the note left her mouth, it turned to raspberry jelly and spewed all over Wylma.

     “At this point?” Wylma said as she wiped jelly from her eye.  “I really don’t know.”

*    *    *

     Wylma loved Jackie.  Really she did.  She’d been adorable as a child while Wylma had watched from afar, and she had shown so much promise as she had grown.  And once Wylma had begun to suspect what kind of magic was Jackie’s calling, she’d done everything she could to prepare the girl to use it.

     But right now she felt a terrible urge to run screaming and leave Jackie to her fate.  The girl had zero attention span, and this form of magic, if it could really be called a form at all, was completely unpredictable.  Just how was she supposed to teach the rules to something that didn’t have any rules to begin with?

     They’d practiced in the bar’s back room for several hours, but Wylma only had limited success.  She’d tried to get Jackie to do basic spells, things that should have been child’s play in Wylma’s own form of magic, but every attempt had been messy at best and disastrous at worst.  Wylma had tried to get Jackie to levitate a couple spatulas from the grill, but Jackie had instead turned them into two doughnuts and a woodpecker.  The woodpecker was now somewhere in the bar drilling holes in the wall, but Wylma hadn’t had time to look for it because she’d instead been trying to put out the fires Jackie had started when she’d tried to turn the doughnuts back. 

     The only thing Wylma had been successful in teaching Jackie was how to access her spastic energy without the amplification of the circle, although she wasn’t sure anymore if that was really a success.  That only meant Jackie’s chaotic form of magic was now loosed on the world.

     The time for practicing was over now, though.  If Jackie couldn’t use her abilities in any meaningful way, then that only meant Wylma would have to be the one to protect her.  The best way to do that would be to go back to where this had all started, hopefully to confront whatever force it was that had threatened Jackie’s life.  They walked back to the Z-Wash as quickly as they could, a journey that all by itself hurt Wylma’s head.  Jackie had someone found a way to move while standing still yet stay in one place while walking, and every time Wylma looked over and saw the girl delighting in this, Wylma felt the urge to go back to the bar and get her aspirin again.

     “Hey, Aunt Wylma,” Jackie said as she stood in one place at a speed Wylma could barely keep up with.  “I think I figured something out.”

     Wylma allowed herself a moment of hope.  “Oh?  What’s that?”

     “Knock, knock,” Jackie said, and a hole opened up in front of Wylma.  She had to pinwheel her arms desperately to keep from falling in.

     “Jackie, gods damn it!”

     “Oops, sorry.  That wasn’t what I expected to happen.  Which is exactly what I expected to happen.”

     “Damn it, I really hate this,” Wylma said as she carefully moved around the hole.  It looked deep, and if she strained she thought she could hear people speaking in Mandarin from the bottom.

     “Hate what?” Jackie asked.

     “Spazmatic Magic is just… well, it’s just not a very good form of magic.  It would have been easier if your calling had been voodoo or thaumaturgy or Rowlingian or something like that.”

     “Hey, what do you mean it’s not very good?  I’m thinking it’s pretty effing cool.”

     “Did you really just say ‘effing?'”

     “You know, Mom always talked crap about you because you were different,” Jackie said.  Suddenly her standing in place really did become standing in place, and she had to start walking to catch up with Wylma.  “So why would you think it’s okay to talk crap because I’m different?”

     “Honey, I’m not talking crap about you,” Wylma said.  “I’m just saying…”  She wasn’t sure what she was saying.  She just didn’t like the randomness of Jackie’s magic.  She much preferred when things fit into easy categories.  Sure, there were other people like Corrine who used those categories as an excuse to say they were right and everyone else was a freak, but…

     But nothing, Wylma realized.  That was kind of what she had just been doing with Jackie just now.

     “I’m sorry,” Wylma said.  “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

     “That’s okay,” Jackie said.  The laundry mat was only about a block away now, and she sped up as they approached.  “You can totally make it up to me by letting me show you just how spazzy I can be all over what ghost-monster-demon thing is after me.  I’ll just get my spaz on all over it.  Oh, hey, that sounded dirty.  Ew, Aunt Wylma, get your mind out of the gutter.”

     Jackie ran into the laundromat, and Wylma, shaking her head, followed.

*    *    *

     Aw hell yeah.  Jackie could do this.  She totally could.  Now if she could just figure out what “this” was supposed to be.

     She jumped through the laundromat’s door and screamed “ha!” while striking a ninja pose.  There didn’t appear to be anyone in the place, which seemed like a waste of a perfectly good ninja pose, but Aunt Wylma came in a few seconds later to see it, so Jackie supposed it wasn’t wasted after all. 

     “Jackie, I don’t think that’s going to do anything,” Wylma said.  Jackie just answered with another soft “ha!”  Aunt Wylma may know magic, but she had admitted straight up that she didn’t know anything Jackie’s magic.  Of course, Jackie didn’t know anything about her magic either, which was exactly why she knew a ninja pose would be useful.

     She could feel a strange buzzing sensation coming from somewhere in the building now.  Maybe it had been there before, but she hadn’t been letting herself sense it.  Or, more likely, she’d been trying too hard to sense something different in the world, and that was exactly why it hadn’t been working.  In just a few hours of talking with Aunt Wylma, despite Wylma’s belief that those hours had been wasted, Jackie had come to understand the key principle in who she was and what she could do.  And that understanding was simply that she could never understand anything.

     “How much more time do we have before the five hours are up?” Wylma asked.

     Jackie’s phone rang.  She answered it.

     “Eight minutes, forty-three seconds,” the crackly voice said, then hung up.

     “Well, at least this thing, whatever it is, is accommodating,” Wylma said. 

     “Do you think it actually comes from here in the laundromat?” Jackie asked.

     “I guess,” Wylma said.  “It certainly didn’t respond to us talking about it while we were at the bar or on the streets.”

     “So we can probably talk to it,” Jackie said.  “You can come out early,” she said to the room.  “Really.  If you’re gonna kill me you might as well get it over with.”

     “Jackie,” Wylma said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.  We should take the remaining minutes to prepare and…”

     The phone rang again.  Jackie answered.

     “Stop that,” the voice said.

     “Stop what?” she asked.

     “Talking to me.  I’m just supposed to be a scary voice until the moment I come out to kill you.  I can’t exactly be scary if you keep talking to me.  That’s how the rules work.”  The voice hung up.

     “Oh, quit being such a damp blanket,” Jackie said to the room.  “I want to talk to you.  Hey, you know what?  I should go get some cards and we can totally play Go Fish!”

     The phone rang.  Jackie answered.

     “I’m warning you, you little bitch.”

     “Hey, did you know I can juggle?” Jackie said.  “I’m super good at it.”

     “That’s it.  I don’t care if it’s against the rules, I coming for you now just to shut you up.”  The line went dead, and the cell phone sparked.

     “Aw man, now that thing totally owes me a phone,” Jackie said.  “But it should be here any second now.”

     “Ooh, I really don’t think this is a good idea,” Wylma said.  Before she could even finish the sentence, though, every washer and dryer in the laundry mat turned itself on at once.

     “That’s usually not a good sign.  I’ve got to put up a protection spell or something,” Wylma said.  She stepped ahead of Jackie and made some gestures in the air with her hands while she chanted.  “By the secret sacred shells of Shellaculon, by the…”

     “No,” Jackie said.  “I actually know exactly what I need to do.”

     “You do?”

     “Nope, not a clue.  But don’t you see?  That’s exactly how it works.” 

     Wylma stepped back, obviously not happy about this and probably not understanding.  By not understanding, however, maybe she was finally beginning to understand.  If you understood Spazmatic Magic, you didn’t understand it at all.  But if you didn’t get it, then you got it perfectly.  This wasn’t some magic system like all the others that operated on strict rules.  This was magic in its purest form, all the chaos in between the arbitrary rules. 

     And Jackie was nothing if not chaotic.

     All the machines in the laundromat came to a stop except for one.  A dryer directly across from where Jackie stood continued to go even as its door clicked and slowly swung open.  Something black and hazy swirled inside it.  The haze coalesced into something more tangible, and a hand reached through and went down to support itself on the ground.  Except it wasn’t a hand, exactly.  It was a mitten, and it was attached to the end of a sweatshirt that had faded from too many washings.  A second hand came out to join the first on the floor, except this one was a threadbare glove.

     “Oh, hey,” Wylma said.  “This is a new one, even for the Hill.”

     The thing was made entirely out of old clothes.  Its legs were a pair of jeans with several holes in them, showing a complete lack of flesh underneath.  Its feet, when they came out, were a pair of mismatched socks.  But the most interesting feature of all was its head.  Jackie couldn’t see a face of any kind, but it did have long black hair covering where the face would be.  As it finished crawling out of the dryer, though, Jackie realized the hair was actually thousands of long strands of thread.

     “Is that supposed to be scary?” Jackie asked.

     “Its hair is in its face,” Wylma said.  “That’s always scary.”

     “But it doesn’t have a face,” Jackie said.  “And it’s made of old clothes.  Sorry, not impressed.”

     In a flash of inhuman motion, the clothes-creature skittered across the floor on all fours and stopped just in front of Jackie.

     “Okay, maybe a little impressed,” she said.

     “Jackie, if there’s something you think you can do,” Wylma said, “I really suggest doing it now.”

     “Okay.  Wanna see me moonwalk?” Jackie asked the clothes.

     “No, damn it,” the clothes hissed.  It sounded like multiple fabrics brushing against each other.  “No more games.  You violated the rules of this sacred place…”

     “It’s a laundromat,” Jackie said.

     “It is sacred to my kind!  You violated the rules!”

     “I’m not exactly a rules kind of person,” Jackie said.  With that, she grabbed the mitten and glove, pulled them away from the rest of the clothes-creature, and started to juggle them.

     “Stop that!  How am I supposed to strangle you to death without my hands?”

     “Kind of the point.”

     “This is very rude,” the clothes-creature said.  It took several steps backward, but Jackie stepped on its foot and it fell backward.

     “Do you get it now, Aunt Wylma?” Jackie said.  She dropped the glove and mitten.  Before either of them could hit the ground they transformed.  The mitten became a swarm of moths that instantly attacked the clothes-creature, causing the thing to release its closest approximation to a scream.  The glove turned into a Mr. Potato Head.  When it hit the ground, the parts spread all over the floor and proceeded to do absolutely nothing.

     “Nope,” Wylma said.  “I have to say, I am now more confused than ever.”

     The clothes-creature tried to move back towards the washer, but the moths had already eaten several large ragged holes in it.  The threads were falling off its “head” in massive clumps, and its scream was beginning to peter out.  It stayed in a vaguely human shape for only a few seconds more before it finally collapsed.  The moths flew off, most of them vanishing as they flew, while a few others turned into Legos and joined the Mr. Potato Head parts on the floor.  For a moment the clothes twitched, looking like they were about to get back up.  Jackie moonwalked just to make sure, and they went still.

     “I did it,” Jackie said.  “I really did it!”

     “Yeah, um, I guess you did,” Wylma said.  “I can’t say I have the slightest clue how, though.”

     “You could just say that I did it by being me,” Jackie said.

     Wylma smiled.  “I could, but that would mean I would have to figure out just what you are.”

     “You said it yourself, Shaker,” Jackie said.  “I am a complete and total Spaz.”  And she celebrated by running a lap around the washers.

(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

04
Jan
10

I’m Dreaming of… – Part 2

Hello again.  Today we’re finishing off “I’m Dreaming of a White Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra.”  If you missed the first part you can read it here.  Also, as always, don’t forget that if you want more from the AS universe you can purchase the Apocalypse Shift novel at Amazon.  Remember that the print edition of Tales From the Apocalypse Shift, complete with a novelette that won’t be on the blog, is coming in 2010, so you may want to check out the novel before the next book is released.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy!

Derek J. Goodman

I’m Dreaming of a White Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra – Part 2

     If Caleb and Phil hadn’t been so insistent, Courtney would have just run out into the night searching blindly for any sign of what had happened to Holly.  On further thought that would have been idiotic, and probably would result in Holly vanishing off the face of the planet, but Courtney wasn’t happy either about doing it in a more sensible fashion.  Sensible meant waiting and preparing and putting plans into place and then waiting some more.  Courtney hated it, but she held her tongue.  Caleb and Phil were doing everything they could to help her, and by extension Holly. 

     Caleb made a phone call first, and Courtney paced in the back room (off the clock now, at Caleb’s insistence)while she waited.  Phil explained to her, when he wasn’t doing his nightly duties, that Caleb was talking to the same woman who had found all the Hollys in the neighborhood to start with.  If she could find them before, Caleb was certain she could find them again. 

     “You know,” Phil said to her, “if Wylma can find her, then there’s no reason you have to be the one to go after her.  We could try calling the special police…”

     “Gloria told me they’re slow as hell,” Courtney said.

     “Or there are all kinds of other people that could help.  Most of them probably have more experience than you do with this sort of thing.”

     “Have they headed rescue operations for people being tortured by psychotic turnips?”

     “Probably not, but around here you never can tell.”

     “I have enough experience.”

     “Okay, fine.  You can do it.  But other people can, too.  Why does it have to be you?  Really?”

     “None of your business,” Courtney said, but that was a question that had already crossed her mind.  This had grown personal for her, but she couldn’t say why.  She just felt better knowing she was doing something to help.  Other people might be able to find Holly, and they could probably do it without the possibility of being frightened away by someone’s salad.  But by making herself do this, Courtney felt like her life had some purpose and reason back in it.

     When he wasn’t helping customers, Phil helped her formulate something like a plan.  They kept various weapons and potions and things to help fight anything that might throw a tantrum in the store, but most of those weren’t designed to fight ordinary humans.  Phil gave her some daggers she would be able to easily conceal on herself, although he was uneasy with the possibility of her using them on normal people.  In Courtney’s mind they were nothing of the sort, and she didn’t think she’d have any trouble using deadly force if needed.  They were kidnappers and potential murderers, after all.  She really didn’t care if they were only doing it in the name of their religion. 

     Phil was also able to find a robe for her in back among some boxes of emergency supplies.  The basic idea was that, when they found where the cultists had Holly, Courtney could sneak in as one of them and get her out, hopefully without anyone knowing any wiser.

     “Why does this robe smell like skunk?” Courtney asked.

     “Got it off a former cultist of Bag-Hosra.  They all make themselves smell like that.”

     “But why?”

     “Not a clue.”

     When Caleb finally got a lead on Holly’s location, Courtney left the OneStop through the back door.  She didn’t want anyone seeing her leaving the store in the robe and possibly make the connection that someone out there tonight was not who she said she was.  Phil had given her as much knowledge as he had on the cultists, but it had been a lot to absorb and there was still a lot he didn’t know.  It would be enough, she hoped.

     Caleb’s friend had used the same locating spell as she had before to find Holly, and the young woman had apparently been moving southward towards the center of the Hill before finally coming to a stop.  A few other spells had been able to show that she wasn’t alone, so Courtney had likely been correct.  Someone had taken her. 

     Caleb had marked Holly’s location on a map for her, and as Courtney walked briskly in that direction she noticed a distinct change in the buildings around her.  She’d still seen the fancy former mansions at first, but they gave way more and more to apartment buildings, most of them looking kind of run down.  She still saw the festive and disturbing holiday decorations in some doors and windows, but they were far between around here. 

     Courtney had to double check the map against the actual location when she found it.  The apartment building was about three stories and made of red brick.  The bizarre rituals and beliefs had seemed to make more sense when paired with a more decedent architecture, but this place looked completely normal.  It didn’t even seem like it belonged on the Hill.

     Then she looked up and saw a girl in a Japanese school-girl uniform and a boy in a tuxedo and domino mask fly off the roof.  Yep, this place still belonged on the Hill.

     The front door was locked, but Phil had given her a tip how to get around that if she needed.  There was a panel of buttons to buzz each of the apartments off on the left side, and Courtney pressed the first one.  There were a few moments before someone answered through the intercom in a sleepy tone.  “Hello?”

     “I’m here for the ritual,” Courtney said.

     “Oh,” the voice said, suddenly with a note of fear in it.  “Um, sorry, wrong apartment.”  The intercom went silent.  Courtney tried the next apartment.

     “What?” a man’s voice said.

     “I’m here for the ritual.”

     “Bitch, fuck off!”

     Courtney continued going down the list, but most of them didn’t answer.  The mundies in the building were probably asleep, completely unaware that there might be a human sacrifice about to take place right now in the apartment down the hall.  After eleven tries, though, Courtney finally got the answer she’d been looking for.

     “Hello?”

     “I’m here for the ritual.”

     “Oh!  Well, you better hurry up.  We’ve already served the cheese and crackers and squidnog, but you’re just in time for the sacrifice.”

     The door buzzed, and Courtney opened it.  She wasn’t sure what disturbed her more, that Holly was only moments away from dying or that these people actually drank something called squidnog.

     The button she had pressed had been for apartment 2F.  She made her way up the stairs, moving as quickly as she could manage in the awkward robe, and went to the door.  Before she even knocked she could hear the sounds of voices from inside.  There seemed to be a lot of people, possibly more than she could take down if she had to fight.  But that didn’t seem like too terrible a prospect to her.  She could fight, and she didn’t much care what happened to her in the process.  It just felt good to be doing something for someone.  She really felt like she had a purpose at the moment.

     She knocked at the door.  It opened quickly to give Courtney a whiff of the most wretched odor.  Every single person in this place for some reason smelled like a skunk, and there were a lot of people.  “Oh, hi,” the man who opened the door said.  “Are you Bobbi’s friend she was saying might show up?”

     Courtney did her best not to sound nervous.  Acting had never been a strong suit for her, but she thought she would be okay as long as she kept cool.  “Um, yeah, Bobbi told me to come but as I was on my way I got a flat tire and then there was this giant man-eating piranha plant and it came up to me and was all like, ‘Hey, give me five-fifty,’ and I was like…”  She paused.  Maybe that wasn’t the right way to act.

     The man at the door stared at her, although it was hard for Courtney to see his expression from under his hood, but he stepped aside.  “Well, yeah.  You’ve got to be careful with man-eating plants.  Moochers, all of them.”  Courtney gave him a polite nod and entered, doing her very best not to wretch all over the front of her cloak at the smell.

     Someone handed her a glass and wished her a happy Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra.  She took the glass and almost took a drink out of it, then paused when she saw the glass’s contents.  It was a milk-like substance, except there were chunks of what might have been tentacles in it.  They even still seemed to be moving.  She set the glass down on the nearest surface and glanced around the room instead.

     They were in a living room, a decent sized one considering  the premium on space on the crowded Hill, but there wasn’t any typical living room furniture.  Instead there was a large block set on the floor, about one foot high and ten feet by ten feet in length and width.  There were three chains with manacles connected to it, and in the center there was circle drawn with arcane symbols inside.  There seemed to be dried blood on it.  Courtney caught her breath, afraid for a moment that she was too late, before she realized the blood was far too dark.  Possibly it was left over from the year before, but nothing had been killed on it yet tonight.

     Courtney let her hands go inside her robe to rest on the daggers hidden in her belt.  First she needed to find Holly among all this, then she needed to find a way out, but she didn’t quite care for now if she had to kill any of these scumbags in order to make it happen.  Just thinking of what they were planning made Courtney want to slice every one of their necks.  And then maybe go throw up.

     She looked for doors to other rooms, certain that Holly would be somewhere close by.  There were three doors off the living room, one leading to the kitchen, but she could see in there enough to know Holly wasn’t there.  That left the other two, which she assumed had to go to a bathroom and a bedroom.  Both of them were shut.  Keeping one hand on a dagger, Courtney made her way through the people to the nearest door and opened it.  She jerked back at the shriek as the door swung open.

     “Hey, occupied!” a guy inside said.  His mouth was smeared with lipstick, and he wasn’t alone.  A woman had him pinned up against the sink with her body pressed close to him.  With one hand she held something over both their heads.  Courtney only got a brief glimpse of it, but it looked like an old and rotten human toe.

     “Oops.  Uh, sorry,” Courtney said, quickly shutting the door.  She could feel her cheeks warm with embarrassment, but she wasn’t sure if a blush would show anymore given her skin’s new color.  Holly had to be beyond the other door, then.  Before she could go for it, however, someone in the center of the living room spoke up over the chatter of the people.

     “Okay, everyone, this is it,” the speaker said.  “Time to honor Bag-Hosra with this year’s sacrifice!” 

     The group cheered, and Courtney did her best to cheer along with them.  Her chance at getting Holly out of here without too much spectacle was gone.  She was going to have to grab the girl and get out of here, probably killing a whole lot of people along the way. 

     The man who had spoken up went to the bedroom door and placed his hand on the knob.  “Let’s welcome our sacrifice this year with the traditional song!” he said.  Someone in the crowd blew into a pitch pipe, and everyone began singing.  Courtney pulled one of the daggers out as the man opened the door.

     “Deck the halls with bowels of emu, fa la la la la…”

     Courtney paused.  Emu?

     The man went into the bedroom and came back out pulling on a rope.  At the other end an emu squawked, protesting at the rope around its neck, but it came out anyway.

     “Tis the season to be…”  The crowd faltered as no one could think of a word that rhymed with “emu,” but they didn’t let that stop them from going right into the next “fa la la las.”  Courtney looked at the sacrificial spot in the center of the room and suddenly realized why there were only three manacles.  One for each of the emu’s feet, one for its neck.  It had never been intended for human sacrifice at all.

     Courtney moved next to the guy who had let her in the door.  “Excuse me, I don’t understand.  Where’s Holly?”

     The cultist pulled back his hood, and for the first time she saw one of their faces.  He didn’t look like the scary human-killing cultist she had imagined.  He looked old and a little worn.  His eyes had a kind feel to them, but he looked hurt.

     “You’re not really a friend of Bobbi, are you?”

     The smart thing to do would be trying to maintain the charade, but Courtney didn’t think she could.  All of a sudden she felt alone and weak and pointless again.  “No.  I’m just…”

     “You just figured the Bag-Hosrians must be about to do something horrible because that’s what everyone says they do, right?  Well guess what?  Yeah, some Bag-Hosrians may be like that.  Those damned protester out there tonight, I wouldn’t put the whole “bowels of Holly” thing past them.  But you can’t judge all of us based on the actions of a few on the lunatic fringe.  We here are proud that we’re more modern than that.”

     “You’re more modern by sacrificing an emu and using its entrails to decorate your apartment?”

     “Get out,” the man said.  “Don’t you ever dare come back, either.”

     The man shoved her out the front door just as the song was coming to an end, and as the door closed Courtney could hear the squawk as a giant bird had things done to it that she didn’t want to imagine.  But she didn’t really care one way or the other about the bird.  All she could think about was that Holly was still out there somewhere, and she had failed her. 

     Courtney collapsed against a wall in the hall and held her head in her hands.  She thought about all the people she had known in her own world that had died.  She had watched some of them die and heard in gruesome detail what had happened to others.  She’d failed them all, and then took the cowardly way out of it all by escaping to another world.  She was weak and a failure, and that was all she could ever be from now on.  Now she had gone and failed Holly, too.  There was no telling where the poor girl had gone…

     Through all the terrible thoughts racing in her head, Courtney tried to force some reason into them.  Maybe she hadn’t failed anyone after all.  After all, unless Caleb’s friend had been mistaken, Holly was definitely somewhere in this building.  And if she wasn’t with any of the cultists, then there was a very good possibility she wasn’t really in danger after all.  Courtney had probably been overreacting this whole time.  That thought made her feel worse for a moment, the idea that everything that had happened to her had rendered her incapable of even thinking straight, but she had to push past it, at least in the moment.  She had to satisfy herself for now about what had actually happened to the young woman.  After that, then she could let her emotions take back over again.

     She stood back up and walked down the hall to the stairs, trying to figure out which apartment Holly might be in.  She could always just knock on every door until she found her, but there had to be an easier way that wouldn’t make sleepy mundies call the police on her.  The question, Courtney realized, was why Holly would be in this building if she hadn’t been dragged here by the cultists.  Maybe she just lived here.  Maybe she had simply gotten tired of waiting at a convenience store when she could be at home in bed.  She thought back to her conversation with the woman, trying to remember if she had mentioned where she lived.  She hadn’t, Courtney realized, not exactly, but she had mentioned something about a boyfriend.  She hadn’t seemed too pleased about him when she talked about him, either.

     Courtney went back down to the building’s front door, propped it open, and went back out to look at the buttons next to the intercom.   Most people had been sleeping.  Some had been women’s voices that clearly weren’t Holly.  One voice, though, a male, had clearly stood out at her.

     Courtney pressed the button and waited for a response.  “What?”

     “Is Holly there?”

     “I don’t know who the fuck you are, bitch, but go the fuck away!”

     “Just answer the question.  Is there a woman named Holly with you?”

     “No, now go the fuck away!”  But faintly, Courtney thought she could hear a woman’s voice calling out her name in the background.  Holly was calling for her help.

     Courtney went back inside, found the right room from the intercom, and kicked the door down.  For the next several minutes she felt like she had a purpose again.

*    *    *

     The OneStop was in the middle of a rush when she came back, but both Caleb and Phil stopped helping the line of customer in front of them to look up at her when she came through the door.

     “Did you find her?” Caleb asked.

     “Yeah, I found her,” Courtney said.  She couldn’t make her voice rise much above a whisper.

     “Did you… I mean was she…”  Phil didn’t finish his sentence, but Courtney knew what he wanted to know.  She thought about how Holly had looked when she had found the woman.  A black eye, bruises on her arms, but no broken bones. 

     “She’s alive,” Courtney said.  Her boyfriend was, too, but only because Holly had screamed at Courtney to stop before she had done anything too drastic.  Holly had explained that she had gone outside for a smoke and found her boyfriend there, begging her to come home.  He’d thought she was gone because she was trying to leave him, having not known anything about Bag-Hosra.  And as soon as they were home he had punished her for going somewhere without his permission.

     Courtney had saved her from any further abuse tonight, but Holly had refused to leave.  She had said Courtney had overreacted, that there was nothing to worry about, that Courtney owed the boyfriend for the repairs to the door. 

     Courtney had gone into that apartment feeling like a heroine and had come out feeling like nothing again.

     “Do you guys need me to punch back in?” she asked.

     “Um, no, don’t worry about it,” Phil said.  “You look like you’ve had enough for your first night.  Assuming that it is your first night and not your last?”

     “I don’t know,” Courtney said.  “Do either of you guys have a cigarette?”

     “Neither of us smoke,” Caleb said, “But I think someone on the first shift left a pack sitting next to the ordering computer.  You could probably grab one without getting in too much trouble.  And there’s an envelope for you back there, too.  Someone came in and left it for you.”

     Courtney grabbed a cigarette and the envelope, but she didn’t care what it was and made no attempt to open it.  Caleb said she could smoke in the back room if she wanted, but Courtney took it out the back door instead.  She wanted to be alone right now, and if either of them had a spare moment when not helping customers they might come in back and ask her questions.  She didn’t have any answers right now.

     The back of the store was in an alley with a dumpster next to the door.  Courtney leaned against the dumpster and lit the cigarette with a lighter Gloria had also left behind, coughing at the first smoke to enter her lungs.  She’d smoked a little in college, which had looked bad for someone in pre-med, so she’d quit.  She would have taken it up again during the war, but cigarettes had been in short supply when she’d been in hiding.  Now apparently it looked like she was starting again.  It calmed her nerves slightly, but nowhere near what she would have liked.

     The shakes began halfway through the cigarette.  She eventually flicked the rest of the cigarette aside and slid down to a sitting position against the dumpster, not wanting to fight the feelings taking over her body.  At least she wasn’t feeling all those emotions of worthlessness and cowardice and panic right now.  Instead she just felt numb.  That wasn’t so bad.  That was a hell of a lot better than the other options.

     “It won’t,” somebody said from down the alley.  The voice was high pitched and scratchy, like a mouse that had its larynx scrubbed out like a toilet brush.  “Stop, that is.  These feelings you have?  At least not for a while.”

     Courtney looked in the direction of the voice.  She didn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean anything.  Whatever was talking to her wasn’t human.

     “And who exactly would you be?” Courtney asked the air.

     “I’ve been watching you all night,” the voice said.  “I’m not the only one, of course.  You’ll speak to the other one soon enough, but I figured I should introduce myself while I’m around, since you’ve been hearing about me all night.”

     There was only one thing she’d been hearing about all night that she hadn’t seen, but she didn’t think it was something she wanted to see at all.  “If you’re about to show yourself,” she said, “I’d rather you didn’t.  I’m not exactly in the mood to meet some sort of tentacled Great Old One.”

     “It’s Elder God for me, actually, and I’m not one of the tentacled ones.  I’m… stranger than that, I guess you could say.”

     The air at the end of the alley shimmered.  Matter rearranged itself, and something took solid form.  Courtney had to blink several times to make sure she wasn’t just seeing things.  At least a few of the things she had seen and heard tonight finally made sense, in an incredibly bizarre way. 

     A skunk floated in the air, a dead skunk with its back to the ground and its legs pointed straight up in the air.  The tail stuck straight out towards her and was flattened underneath as though something held it in the air, even though it was two feet off the ground.  Another several feet over the skunk there was a dark but small storm cloud.  Snow fell from the cloud in impressive sheets, but it all vanished before it hit the dead skunk.

     “I guess that would make you Bag-Hosra?” Courtney asked.

     “That’s correct.  You humans, you always assume that when the tales say we take forms beyond your understanding, that must mean we’re all gibbering tentacled horrors.  Most of us are just… well, what you would consider odd.”

     “Don’t you have some fertility celebrations to attend or something?” Courtney asked.  “I’m sure all your followers would be much happier to see you than I am.”

     “Maybe they would be, but they don’t really want to see me.  They just want to justify all their pomp and circumstance.  It would send the wrong message if I showed myself to them.  They would take it as me accepting this all, when really I believe they’re all just a little bit batty.”

     “Batty?” Courtney asked.  She was feeling a little like that herself, talking to a floating dead skunk and storm cloud, but she would be lying if she said she wasn’t a little intrigued.  “You actually think you’re followers are batty?”

     “Oh please.  Do you really think perfectly sane folk would willingly make themselves smell like a skunk?  With my own powers, which really aren’t quite as godlike as you would think but close enough, what do think is one of the first things I ever did?  I got rid of my own stench, that’s what.”

     “But all the stuff they do, they want to please you.  It’s all to make you happy, isn’t it?”

     “Aw hell no.  It’s to make themselves feel like they’re doing something important.  All the decorating, the sacrifices whether emu or human, the robes, I really couldn’t care less.  They just pretend that I care so they can say how pleased I am with them.”

     “And you’re not?”

     “I couldn’t care less, really.  They’re not really the kind of people I would hang around with if I had my choice.  I mean, would you?  They worship a freaking dead skunk.  Not exactly a character trait anyone would value highly.”

     “Not even the dead skunk in question?” Courtney asked.

     “Especially not the dead skunk in question.”

     “Man, this place is just weird,” Courtney said.

     “Says the half-plant woman from an alternate reality.”

     Courtney scowled at the cloud.  She figured that was the closest she was going to manage to making eye contact.  “So if you don’t think any of them are worthy enough then why suddenly show yourself to me?”

     “Because tonight I think you’re the one who needs me the most,” it said.  “I’m not really a god, more of a spirit, but do you know what I’m a spirit of?”

     Courtney shrugged.

     “It’s in the name of my holiday,” it said.  “Ancient Fertility Rite.  Fertility.  Growth.  Change.  New beginnings.”

     “New beginnings,” Courtney said.  “Maybe I don’t want new beginnings.”

     “Tough noogies,” the dead skunk said.  “Everyone gets a new beginning at some point whether they want one or not.  You feel guilt about surviving what happened to you.  You’re psyche is damaged by everything you saw and did.  All of that is in the past, though, and you’ve got the future ahead of you.”

     “That’s it?” Courtney asked.  “You just say something I could have read in a greeting card and that’s supposed to make me feel better?”

     “Who said I was here to make you feel better?  Nothing can fix the damage done to you, except maybe time, but even that’s not certain.  I am simply here to tell you what you really need to know.  And that is simply that there is a place for you.  Even the new damaged you.  You will have worth, even if you will often doubt it.  You have a role to play.”

     Courtney looked down at her hands folded in her lap.  She wasn’t sure what to say to that.  She’d had plenty of people try to help her through things in the past.  They had always said things like “It will get better,” or “There’s a reason for everything.”  Sometimes she had believed it, but more often she had thought those were just empty platitudes.

     It was nice to finally have someone tell her the cold hard truth, even if that someone was a dead skunk.

     She looked back up at Bag-Hosra, but the skunk was gone.  The cloud still remained for the moment, spilling the occasional snowflake on the ground, but it was fading, too.  She thought about thanking it, but that would just be weird.

     When it was gone she finally remembered she had the envelope in her hands.  She opened it and read the letter inside:

     I’ve been watching you tonight.  I know what you are capable of and what kind of things you need.  I also think you can do way better than the OneStop Mart for a job.  Perhaps you should give me a call.

     There was no name at the bottom of the note, just an attached business card with a phone number and a large letter Q.  New beginnings indeed. 

     She went back inside to tell Caleb and Phil that she really was quitting.  She also thought she might need to use the phone.

The End (For Now)

(c) 2010 Derek J. Goodman

29
Dec
09

I’m Dreaming of… – Part 1

Happy holidays, everyone, even if I am a little late.  Unlike most of the other stories, this one comes directly out of the events of the last one, “The Leek Shall Inherit the Earth” (you can find it here: Part 1 and Part 2), although you don’t have to read that one to understand this one.  The character of Courtney wasn’t originally intended to appear in more than the one story, but she caught my eye as a character who might have a lot of interesting stories to tell.

And as always, if you like what you read here and would like more, please check out the Apocalypse Shift novel at Amazon.

I hope you enjoy!

Derek J. Goodman

I’m Dreaming of a White Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra – Part 1

            Courtney came out of the bathroom to find Sheila with a feather duster going over the shelves of knick-knacks in the living room.  Courtney had always considered herself a neat person, but Sheila went way beyond in her cleanliness.  She was a nice enough person when she wasn’t acting all put-upon, but she wouldn’t have been Courtney’s first choice for a roommate.  It wasn’t like Courtney had much choice, though.  Not everyone would take in someone who was not only from an alternate dimension, but also part plant.

            “So what do you think?” Courtney asked.

            Sheila barely glanced at her.  “About what?”

            “About the make-up?  Do you think it’ll work?”

            Sheila looked at her again, this time for longer as she appraised Courtney’s face.  “It’s fine, I guess.  I don’t know why you think you’ll need it, though.  No one’s going to care, not on the night shift.”

            “But Caleb said that mundies come into the store sometimes, and they might get weirded out by my appearance.”

            “I hate it when he calls us that,” Sheila said.  “Just because there are people out there who aren’t freaks, doesn’t mean he needs to call us something that sounds derogatory.  Mundies just sounds… I don’t know.”

            Courtney tried to keep any anger from coming through in her voice.  “Freaks?  You mean like me?”

            Sheila stopped dusting and finally gave Courtney her full attention.  “No.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean that.”

            “Sure, of course not,” Courtney said.  Her voice still sounded bitter, though, and she wished she could hide it better.  She didn’t want anyone else judging her.  She had to keep up appearances.  She had to look normal.  She had to pretend that she didn’t feel completely and utterly damaged, new life or not.

            Sheila’s voice softened as she came closer and made a closer inspection of Courtney’s make-up.  “Really, it all looks good to… oop!  Missed a spot right there behind your ear.”

            Courtney went back into the bathroom, with Sheila trailing behind her, and looked in the mirror while holding up one of Sheila’s hand mirrors to get a better look at the back of her ear.  Not only was it Sheila’s mirror, but also her make-up.  Courtney didn’t have anything to call her own yet, not even a bed in her new bedroom.  That was just one of the many problems with fleeing across dimensions to escape a war against killer plants.  She hadn’t exactly been given a chance to pack for her trip.

            “Oh, you’re right,” Courtney said.  It was small, but just behind her ear she could see a small patch of newly-green skin.  It had been tough staring at herself for so long as she had put all the makeup on.  The strange virus that had mutated her body into something less like a mammal and more like a plant had turned all her skin bright green.  It was like a scar that covered her entire body, something she desperately wanted to cover.  The make-up made it a little easier.  Sheila’s make-up made her look paler than her skin should have been, but she could fix that once she could buy her own.  That’s what tonight was about, after all.  She had to make sure she looked like a human again for her first night at her new job.

            “So are you nervous?” Sheila asked.

            “Not really,” Courtney said.  “It’s just a convenience store.  I used to work at one back when I was in college.”  College.  Courtney hadn’t thought of that much lately.  She didn’t want to.  Years of pre-med, and now she couldn’t use it.  Schools around here probably wouldn’t take transfer credits from a parallel world.

            Sheila snorted.  “No, Court, it’s not just a convenience store.  If you had taken one of the day shift spots, then sure, you could try telling yourself that.  But even when I’m working the second shift, I can see what things are like once the night comes.  You, however, are going to be working there only during the nights.  I would go nuts if I had to deal with all that lunacy.”

            Courtney just fixed the make-up, not saying anything.  She’d seen a little of the night shift when she had come through into this world, but the strangeness had been mostly her own fault.  Caleb and Gloria had told her things were like that all the time, but Courtney hadn’t been sure how much of that she believed.  Even for a girl from a world run by vegetables, the idea of werewolves, vampires, zombies, and whatever else as regular customers still seemed pretty far fetched.

            “And to make it worse, you’re starting work on the craziest night of the whole year,” Sheila said.

            Courtney glanced over her shoulder at Sheila.  “It’s only September 18th,” she said.  “What’s so crazy about that?”

            Sheila’s eyes went wide.  “Oh crud.  You mean Caleb didn’t tell you?”

            “Tell me what?”

            “It’s the holidays.”

            “There’s no holiday on September 18th.”

            “Maybe not for the rest of the world.  But here in this neighborhood, on the Hill?  It’s like Christmas for all the weirdos.”

            “Wouldn’t that be Halloween?” Courtney asked.

            “No, silly.  Halloween is just for the people who don’t have a clue.  But today?”  Sheila leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper, even though they were alone in the apartment.  “Today is the Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra.”

            Courtney frowned.  “You’ve got to be making that up.”

            Sheila crossed her heart with an index finger.  “I swear I’m not.”

            “But what does that even mean?”

            “Hell if I know.  Maybe Caleb can explain it better to you than he did to me.  But there’s no way in hell I’m going outside tonight.”

            “You refuse to go outside at night around here anyway.”

            “But tonight I really, really mean it.  Now, you better finish getting ready for work.  The sun’s going to set soon, and you’ll want to get to the OneStop before all the real nutso stuff begins.”

            Courtney continued to look skeptically at her, but she decided maybe it would be a good idea to hurry up.  Just in case.

*          *          *

            Sheila’s apartment was about six blocks from the OneStop Mart, which really wasn’t that far, Courtney supposed, but in a neighborhood as dense as the Hill, there were a whole lot of things to pass in between.  There was an organic grocery store just a block away in the direction of the OneStop, but Courtney actually went a block out of her way to go around it.  All grocery stores had taken on a sinister feeling to her now.  That was, after all, where she had been going when she had first discovered the rebellion of vegetables in her home universe.  When she saw a grocery store she thought of produce, and when she thought of produce she thought of death and dismemberment and war and plagues.  It was no wonder that she had lost weight since she had come here.

            The extra block took her down a street of rather old buildings, some of which looked like they might have once been mansions but had in more recent years been converted into apartments.  Most of them looked more or less normal, but as she approached one on the corner she saw some people scurrying about outside with what looked like decorations.  They almost looked like Christmas decorations, including garland and light strings and glass bulb ornaments.  When she got closer, though, she saw that the garland quivered even when it wasn’t being moved, as though it were alive.  The lights weren’t lights at all, but glowing orbs of energy attached to organic-looking sinews.  And the glass bulbs?  They were all red, but not because they were painted that color.  The glass was clear, and some sort of thick red liquid filled them. 

            Maybe this was a house Courtney needed to go around, too.

            She was about to cross the street to get away from it when one of the people decorating saw her, made a joyful sound, and ran up to meet her.  The person was a woman, but Courtney didn’t know that for sure until she was close enough to see the woman’s face.  Instead of normal clothing, the woman wore a robe that hid her gender, and it had a hood that kept her face mostly in shadow.  She had a silver necklace around her neck with a symbol on it that might have been a cloud.  Courtney stopped walking, holding her breath as the woman stood right in front of her.  For some reason the woman smelled atrocious, like a dead skunk.

            “Ooh, isn’t it exciting?” the woman said.

            “Um, I guess,” Courtney said.  “What’s exciting, exactly?”

            “The Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra, silly!  I mean, you have accepted Bag-Hosra into your heart, right?”

            “Um, maybe?”

            “Oh,” the woman said.  Her cheerful demeanor vanished, replaced by a deep, sinister tone in her voice.  “I see you haven’t.  But you will.  Bag-Hosra will come for you soon, and he will have your soul for his.”  The woman brightened again.  “Do you think it will snow tonight?”

            “Probably not.  It’s the middle of September.”

            “That doesn’t mean anything,” the woman said, and her voice went low again.  “When Bag-Hosra deems it to be time, then…”

            “Addie!” someone called out from the house.  “Quit trying to convert the non-believers until after we have the decorations up.”

            The woman ran squealing back to the house.  Courtney continued on to the OneStop, moving much faster now and avoiding any place with decorations.  She was vaguely aware that once upon a time she would have been unsettled by what had just happened, but now it just seemed like just another messed up part of a messed up existence. 

            Maybe this world could be as screwed up as her own after all.

*          *          *

            Both Caleb and Phil were already at the OneStop waiting for her when she got there.  They were both supposed to be on hand to train her for her first night, although Phil didn’t look to happy to be there.  Caleb, on the other hand, looked cheery, almost as much as the mysterious robed woman had been.  They were both already in their OneStop smocks, but Caleb also wore something that looked akin to a Santa hat.  Instead of being red, however, the hat was black with white fur and, instead of a puff ball at the end, it had a small tassel that looked suspiciously like a skunk’s tail.

            “Hey, Courtney,” Caleb said.  “Ready for your first night?”

            “What exactly is going on?” Courtney asked.  “What’s the Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra?”

            “Caleb, you dumbass,” Phil said.  “You mean you didn’t tell her yet?”

            “Hey, don’t look at me,” Caleb said.  “I wasn’t the one who hired her.  Big Maggie was the one who should have let her know what was going to be going on for her first night on the job.”

            “Big Maggie doesn’t know jack about the AFR,” Phil said.  “And even if she did, she would refuse to admit it.  You know how she is.  Last time she was here during the night and she saw that invasion by the tiny blue cannibal men in white hats?  She claimed she was just having an LSD flashback even though she’s never done drugs in her life.”

            “Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” Caleb said.  “If she hadn’t stopped them by accidently stepping on the one in the red hat with the beard, she would have just let them eat her and denied it was happening the whole time.”  He turned to Courtney.  “So that would make it my bad.  Really sorry about that.  Tell you what.  I’ll start explaining it as I show you the basics.”

            Courtney followed him into the back room, where he gave her a smock and a nametag, then showed her how to punch in.  He talked the whole time.

            “Okay, normally this is where I go into my spiel about how the graveyard shift here at the OneStop is different than at other stores, but you’ve already seen the gist of it firsthand, and I know Gloria and Sheila have been filling you in a little bit.  That night when the veggies attacked and you were infected by them, that’s pretty typical, although in an atypical way.  Killer veggies were a new one, even for…”

            “Could we really not talk about that?” Courtney asked.

            Caleb looked at her with a stare deeper than she would have expected out of him.  She didn’t like that look.  That was the look she was sure she was going to get from anyone she ever met in this universe.  That could only be the look of someone judging her.  The moment lasted far too long for Courtney.

            Caleb continued as though the moment hadn’t happened.  “Fine.  So you know about all the vampires and werewolves and Madonna impersonators and other monsters that roam the Hill…”

            “Wait, Madonna impersonators?  How does that count as a monster?”
            “Maybe Madonna was different in your home reality, but trust me.  In this one Madonna impersonators are true beasties.  But that’s not the point I’m getting at.  What I need to explain to you is the concept of Great Old Ones and Elder Gods and things.”

            They stepped out of the back room and behind the registers.  Phil was doing the cigarette inventory for the night, and he gave Courtney a quick idea of how to do it, but a couple customers came in, forcing Phil to stop long enough to take care of them while Caleb continued.  Courtney noticed that one of the customers, a petite woman in her early twenties, nodded at both Caleb and Phil when she came in but didn’t move to browse anything on the shelves.  Instead she walked to the corner of the store over by the freezer case, pulled a book out of her pocket, and sat down on the floor out of the way to read.

            Courtney tried not to stare at the woman.  In a place like this, there was probably a perfectly good (and likely completely loony) reason for the woman’s actions, especially since neither Phil nor Caleb appeared to care.  “Um, Great Old Ones.  Why does that seem familiar?  Isn’t there some writer who created them or something?”

            Caleb shrugged.  “Not in this reality, or at least not that I know of.  But they’re beings, older than humanity.  They have a tendency to drive people insane.  Most are malevolent, a few very rare ones aren’t that bad.  Either way, some people, especially ones on the Hill, form cults to worship them.”

            “And Bag-Hosra is one of them?” Courtney asked.

            “Sort of.  I guess.  I don’t really know much about Bag-Hosra, just the rantings of his followers.  And today is his holiday.”

            “That might explain what I saw on my way here,” Courtney said, and she described the decorated house and the woman in the robe.  “So today is a holiday for evil cultists?”

            “Yep.  They’re going to be doing all kinds of messed up things today.  Illegal things, maybe evil things, most definitely insane things.”

            “So what are we going to do to stop them?” Courtney asked.

            “What, do you expect us to go charging out there and rounding up all the insane cultists who want a monster god thing to eat the world?” Caleb asked.  “We can’t do that.  We have work.  And if any of them come in here, we serve them, provided they behave themselves.”

            “And you think they would?” Courtney asked.

            “People don’t really try to mess around with us here at the OneStop,” Phil said.

            “Why, are you guys that scary and badass?” Courtney asked.

            “Hell yeah we are,” Caleb said.

            “Caleb likes to think he’s a badass, but really?” Phil said.  “People just don’t want to get kicked out of here.  Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get their late night nachos.”

            “Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared,” Caleb said.  “People always get rowdy around the holidays, and cultists are no exception.  And probably most importantly, we need to make sure none of these nitwits harass Holly.”

            “Who’s Holly?” Courtney asked.

            Caleb cocked his thumb in the direction of the corner, where the woman was still minding her own business.  “A sorceress friend of mine does a search spell every year before the AFR.  Finds every person on or near the Hill with the name Holly and makes sure she’s somewhere safe tonight.  That one didn’t have anywhere to go, so she’s going to be hanging out here until the sun rises.”

            “I don’t understand,” Courtney said.  “Why wouldn’t she be safe?

            “Because it’s the holidays.  And the followers of Bag-Hosra, part of their holiday tradition is decking the halls.”

            “With boughs of holly?” Courtney asked.

            “Nope, bowels,” Caleb said.  “Now if you’ll come with me, I’ll show you the back cooler and how to front-face the stock.”  He was moving before Courtney had a chance to ask him if he was joking.  She looked at Phil, expecting to see some smirk to let her know she was the butt of a joke, but his face was completely straight.  He even looked a little bored.

            Her sleep ever since she had arrived here had been haunted by nightmares of her home reality, but for the first time she wondered if she would have been better off staying there.

*          *          *

            The first several hours of her shift went by with little incident.  She caught on quickly, since most of the duties were similar to what she’d had to do while working her way through college.  Some things took a lot of getting used to, though.  Most of the customers looked fairly normal, if somewhat bohemian compared to anywhere else in the city.  Others, however, were very clearly not human.  One guy, towering over Courtney at something near seven feet tall, was dressed in tattered clothes and a battered hockey mask.  She half-expected him to try robbing the store with the blood stained machete tucked in his belt, but instead he bought a Pina Colada-flavored Froztee, a quart of motor oil, and a bag of cough drops. 

            Although she heard several customers chattering about the Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra, none of them seemed to be actual cultists.  The only cultist related disturbance in those first several hours was across the street from the store, and she had been able to witness some of it while she’d been outside sweeping the parking lot.  A large number of cultists had gathered and were apparently trying to protest, but it didn’t appear they were very organized.  Several waved signs that said “Keep Bag-Hosra in the Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra.”  It was hard to tell with only the orangish glow of the street lights to illuminate the signs, but Courtney thought the words may have been written in blood.  A lot of the others had broken into two separate groups screaming at each other from opposite sides of the street.  One group had signs that said “Bag-Hosra Hates Bags.”  The other group had signs with “Bag-Hosra Hates Hosras.”

            Courtney wasn’t sure whether she should be repulsed or amused.

            Caleb and Phil showed her around and told her how to do various chores, but they both seemed happy with how quickly she caught on and mostly left her alone to do her work.  She was glad they were pleased, but she wasn’t sure if this was a job she could keep for long.  The monotony of it reminded her so much of the way her life had been before the war in her home reality, and really, she still hadn’t even gotten used to the idea that “home reality” was someplace else, somewhere she would never be able to go back.  The worst part was that mundane activities, things that shouldn’t have bothered her in the slightest, gave her shivering fits.  The sight of the onions and tomatoes in the nacho bar made her nauseous, and the lettuce on the subs in the deli case kept looking to her like it was moving.  She was honestly thinking about quitting when she finally had a chance to talk to Holly.

            Courtney almost tripped over the poor woman.  Caleb had instructed her how to do the nightly temperature check for the cooler and freezer case, and she was so distracted as she went that forget Holly was in the way.  The woman had folded her legs up with her knees tight against her chest, doing her best to remain out of the way, but she had to skitter aside as Courtney barreled down the aisle. 

            “Oh, whoops.  Sorry,” Courtney said as she dodged out of the way, barely managing to avoid colliding with Holly’s feet. 

            “That’s okay,” Holly said in a timid voice.  “I’m just sorry I’m in the way.”

            “Oh, don’t worry.  You’re not in the way,” Courtney said.  She hadn’t been giving Holly much thought so far, but now that she stood next to the woman it occurred to Courtney just how scared she looked.  “Um, do you mind if I ask you a question?”

            “I guess I don’t.”

            “Do you have to do this every year?”

            “No, um, this is my first year on the Hill.” 

            Courtney looked around to make sure neither Phil nor Caleb were watching her disapprovingly for not working, but Phil was helping a customer while Caleb lounged against the magazine racks and flipped through a gaming magazine.  She hunched down so she was at eye level with Holly to give her a better look.  Her face was nervous and uncertain, and her dark brown eyes were wide as they flicked back and forth, trying to look at everything in her environment at once.  It occurred to Courtney that this was the first time since crossing over into this reality that she had really made eye contact with anyone. 

            “Do you really think you’re in danger tonight?” Courtney asked.

            “I don’t know.  Maybe.  I guess I’d believe it.  I’ve only lived here on the Hill for a few months, but I didn’t realize the… stuff that went on here until a couple weeks ago.”

            “How did you come to live here?”

            Holly shrugged and looked away.  “Used to live with my boyfriend,” she said.  Courtney got the distinct impression that she didn’t want to talk about it any further.

            It was strange, but Courtney felt a lot of the doubt and nervousness from earlier disappear as she looked at Holly.  She remembered very clearly many times in the past where she had been confronted with other scared people, and she hadn’t felt any fear herself anymore when she was around them.  She’d had the urgent need to protect them, and that had superseded any of her own needs and emotions.  It wasn’t until she was alone that all the pain and fear and trauma came back to her, and lately she had felt very, very alone.

            “Tell you what,” Courtney said.  “You’ll be perfectly safe while you’re here.”  She reached out pat Holly on the knee, but Holly reflexively moved away.

            “Is there something wrong with you?” Holly asked. 

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or anything,” Courtney said.

            “No, your cheek,” Holly said.  “It looks kind of… green.”

            “Oh,” Courtney said, all of the fear and inexplicable dread coming back to her in a great wave.  She stood up and backed away from Holly.  “That’s just… I’m going to… I’ll be right back.”  She back-peddled away from the woman and in the direction of the bathroom.  She shoved past a man standing by the deli case and moved swiftly towards the door, ignoring his protests.  She tried to pull the door open, found it wouldn’t budge, then tried again, harder.  It still wouldn’t move.

            “Hey,” Caleb said, coming up from behind her.  “Something wrong?”

            “I need to get in,” she said, giving the handle another rattle.  She didn’t like the way her voice quavered, but she didn’t try to fight it.  Right now it seemed far more important to fix her face, to keep people from seeing that she was a freak, that she was damaged, that…

            She suddenly had to fight very hard from screaming.

            “Okay, okay, relax,” Caleb said.  “We keep the bathroom locked to keep people from coming in just to use it to sleep in or do drugs in or summon demons in the toilet.”  He pulled a key from his pocket and handed it to Courtney.  She immediately shoved it in the handle and went inside, not even bothering to say thank you.

            Courtney was in the bathroom for ten minutes, just sitting on the toilet and trying to catch her breath, before she even realized that she didn’t even have the makeup on her to fix her face.  It was still in her borrowed purse sitting in the back room.  She had briefly seen her reflection in the mirror when she had come in, and there had indeed been a small patch where her green skin showed through, but she hadn’t wanted to look at it just now.  Instead she sat trying to figure out what was wrong.  This didn’t feel like the person she should be.  She’d survived a war with fucking vegetables, for Christ’s sakes.  She’d faced them and escaped and had even survived one final encounter where she had prevented them from destroying this reality like they had her own.

            So why did she feel weak and disgusting and unfit to live?

            After another five minutes she finally got herself together enough to leave the bathroom and get Sheila’s makeup, then went back and patched up the spot on her cheek.  When she finally came out of the bathroom and gave Caleb the key back, she could see the concern on both his and Phil’s faces.  Maybe that was the worst part.  They looked sorry for her, but she could also swear they had to be condemning her as weak at the same time. 

            “Are you okay?” Caleb asked.

            “Fine,” she said.  She was sure he could tell by her voice that she was lying, but she didn’t really care.  She looked out at the rest of the store, a part of her brain actually checking to see if there might be any tomatoes lurking in the shadows, but all she saw were customers.  It took her a moment to see that Holly was gone.

            “Where’d Holly go?” she asked.

            Caleb and Phil looked around, and Caleb shrugged.  “Don’t know.  She was just here.”

            “You didn’t see her leave?” Courtney asked.

            “No, we were kind of distracted wondering if you were okay,” Phil said. 

            “Well, she would know not to leave the store, right?” Caleb asked.

            “I don’t have a clue,” Phil said.  “Wylma’s the one that contacted her and sent her to stay here tonight.  I really don’t have a clue how much she told Holly.  Maybe she didn’t make it known how dangerous it would really be?”

            No, Courtney thought.  She had seen the young woman’s eyes.  Holly had known how dangerous it might be for her tonight.  Courtney went over to the corner where she’d been sitting.  Holly’s book was still there, closed with its bookmark sitting a good three feet away.  It looked like she had left in a hurry, or perhaps like someone had taken her away before she could put the bookmark in.

            “They took her,” Courtney said as Caleb and Phil followed her to the corner.  “While you weren’t looking, the Bag-Hosra people got her.”

            “Actually, they’re called Bag-Hosrians,” Caleb said.

            “Really? I thought they were going by Bag-Hosrites this week,” Phil said.

            “No, you’re thinking of last week.  Although come to think of it, I actually heard one refer to himself yesterday as a Hosra-Bagian, so maybe…”

            “Will you two shut the hell up?” Courtney said.  “I don’t give a shit what they’re calling themselves.  They took her.  We’ve got to find her.”

            “Okay, first,” Caleb said.  “We don’t actually know that they took her.  She really could have just gone off by herself.  You know, got sick of sitting in a convenience store all night.”

            Courtney looked out the glass of the front door.  All the protesters that had been outside earlier were gone, although she thought she could see a discarded picket sign lying in the parking lot.  “No.  You know that’s not what happened.”

            “Fine,” Phil said, “but we can’t just leave looking for her.  We’re working here…”

            “Screw work!” Courtney said.  “They might kill her!”

            “…and we don’t know where they would have taken her,” Phil said.  “This isn’t something we can fix.”

            “Are you kidding me?” Courtney asked.  “You’re just going to give up on her?”

            “We’re not saying that,” Caleb said.  “We know people.  We can call them, and I trust that they can help her.  But we can’t.  We have to stay here.  If they come back, we can totally wipe the floor with their asses.  But otherwise, we’re kind of powerless.”

            Courtney had felt powerless since pretty much the moment she had woken up in this reality.  She’d felt powerless as she’d covered up her new complexion, and she had felt powerless when she’d had the feeling that the store’s condiments were staring at her.  She knew powerless well enough.  But when she had looked at that woman, someone else who had felt powerless, she suddenly hadn’t felt that way at all.  She’d felt in control for a moment, and thinking about that now, she still felt in control.

            “I’m going out to find her,” Courtney said.

            “You can’t leave the store,” Caleb said.  “You’re on the clock.”

            “Then I quit,” Courtney said.  She started to take off her smock, but Caleb touched her arm and stopped her.

            “You seriously willing to do that?” Caleb asked.

            “Absolutely.”

            Caleb smirked.  “We’ll make up an excuse for you while you go to help her.  Say you went home sick or something.  Big Maggie will be suspicious, but screw her.  Because I really don’t think you’re the kind of worker we want to lose.”

            Courtney still wasn’t sure she wanted to stay anyway, but she nodded.  Neither Caleb or Phil looked like they could possibly understand what she was going through, and she still wasn’t sure they didn’t think her unworthy on some deeper level, but for now this would have to do. 

To Be Concluded

(c)2009 Derek J. Goodman