This is an original work by Sarah B. Edington. Do not copy or reproduce it in any way without expressed written permission.
“Are you sure about this?” I asked for about the umpteenth time. Winnie just looked at me and grinned, her stormy gray eyes crinkled at the corners with her amusement. The look she was giving me spoke volumes. It said that I was worrying over nothing, everything would be alright, and that I should follow her lead. So that's what I did, as usual.
She ran ahead of me to the convenient store, though what was supposedly convenient about the place eluded me. For one thing, it was located in the middle of freaking nowhere and for another it just didn't have the variety of merchandise or competitive prices that the chain stores had. It was Mom&Pop and it was on it's way out.
Giggling with excitement, Winnie flung her red hair over her shoulder and pushed the door open causing the bells attached to jangle loudly. Her hair slapped me full in the face, filling my mouth, sticking to my lip gloss. I think that might have been the first clue that I was following too closely. I very deliberately counted as I took three nervous steps back.
As she ran a petite hand through the russet locks, her bright red lacquered nails and pale skin contrasted beautifully, which she knew. She was always doing that, pushing her hair back to draw attention to her face, her cold, smiling eyes, her quirked mouth. Pristine makeup enhanced every feature without drawing obvious attention to any, only her lipstick was bright and glaring.
She is good at making herself up without looking like a prostitute, even considering the red gash of her mouth. I'm not. I always feel like a little whore when I wear that much make up. I am a bit of a wallflower, Winnie definitely steals the spotlight. But she is so alive and lovely it is hard not to notice her, so I don't mind. (much)
Winter (Winnie) Politely is extremely aware of how lovely she is. She's 5'2”, with ginger hair that cuts off in a straight line in the middle of her back. She has magnolia white skin, her face is small and her nose pert, her lips pout under cherry red lipstick, mouth the perfect image of Cupid's bow. Wide, glittering, changeable gray eyes seem to swallow most of her face. They are the color of stark winter skies, thus her name. Well, that isn't really her full name. All our names are complicated. It's more of an image, or an emotion. It is a Sending. Her name is that feeling the air gets as the first frost of winter tinges everything white, with cold gray clouds filling the sky like a blanket, and winds howling down from the north promising colder weather yet to come, as the first chilly, dim rays of sunlight peek over the mountains and the quarter moon rides low on the horizon... Like I said, our names are complicated.
We are twins, nearly identical. We are Native American and Irish, and look it. My eyes are bright Irish green, and my name is Poppy Politely. As you probably guessed its more than that. It's that moment in the hottest part of summer when the sun has just set and the cicadas are singing, lightening bugs are hanging on the heated breeze which blows over a poppy field like the devil just yawned and the whole world is stretching, settling in for night, a strong scent of flowers hangs so thick on the air that you think you might choke... But it's more than that still. It's hard to explain.
I kinda like it, as far as names go it's a pretty good one. Languid and hot, I think it's a name for a woman with a smile that promises a good time. I'm not really sure I live up to it, then again I've only just turned 16. Winnie says I'll grow into it. It's hard to tell, but I think Winnie already embodies her name. She's cold as a witch's grave, and I say that with all the love in the world. After all, she is my twin.
Winnie moves in such a way that it draws the eyes of every male above the age of 8, and I don't know how she manages it. If I could duplicate that slinky cat-like grace I think more people would notice me as an individual instead of as Winnie's sister. Just walking through a fancied up gas station seemed an event with her.
Winnie glided up to the counter with a smile on her face that somehow managed to be suggestive and sweet all at the same time. She is a good actress. She plays all her roles well, but I think the coquette is her best mask. Sometimes watching her in action is better than Sunday night HBO.
As a pair, we usually wear a lot of black and white, very monochrome. It's kind of a theme we have going. Cheesy? You betcha. But it's fun. It's like an inside joke that no one gets but us, and I like that.
That night was a very different night, but still I was wearing black tennis shoes, white jeans and a black baby doll tee shirt, black hoodie pulled up, all my thick red hair pulled back in a severe braid leaving my pale, unmade-up face stark and bare in the dark cowl of my jacket, the pale lines of my eyebrows slashed through my face like albino bat wings. My large, feline eyes were wide, bright and they tried to consume my face, I knew all this without looking in a mirror.
Winnie wore a skin tight black leather skirt that looked as though it was painted on, a scoop neck white t-shirt with the words [This has been a clever distraction.] printed across the bust in bold, black letters. Winnie is big on ironic humor. Just a guess, but I'd estimate I don't understand approximately 32% of what she says in jest or why it's funny. I usually laugh anyway though.
She had on startlingly red screw-me pumps, and that really got my goat. We always wore black and white, and there was no cause to deviate from the plan. She could have at least warned me, or discussed it. When did we stop planning our outfits together? At least everything else she had on was black or white.
For all that twins are supposed to be alike, we aren't really. Winnie is like me, but ... more. Smarter, tougher, braver, stronger, prettier, cleverer (which isn't the same as smart, you can learn to be smart, but you can't really learn to be clever) and most importantly, more alive. Sometimes I feel like her shadow, a little dimmer, less radiant but somehow still alike. My only job: To follow Winnie around and do as she says. Bitter? Who, me?
Winnie leaned across the counter and ran one long red nail down the cheek of the poor kid working behind it. Something passed between them in that heartbeat, something private which I couldn't really understand and so will never be able to explain. Such a violation of a stranger's personal space is not something I could stomach, but I watched my sister with fascination. The amount of sheer emotion she could pack into a passing glance astounded me. All of Winnie's looks were eloquent of words.
I called him a kid but he was almost certainly older than we are, he had the fuzz of a first mustache growing on his upper lip and a tremulous smile all over his entire face. A naiveté rode in his eyes, an innocence that spoke of always being well taken care of, if not well off. We had lost it years ago. Probably 18-20, he was not attractive enough to warrant attention from someone like my sister, and he wasn't sure how to take it.
Emotions flitted across his face: He was thrilled, but uncertain, nervous, anxious to say or do the right thing. I almost wanted to laugh, but in the same breath I wanted to tell Winter to stop playing with her food. I kept my peace. It's not my job to correct her. I am not the shepherd to the weak.
Falling back onto her heels and into her own space, she wiggled a finger in a 'come hither' motion. He leaned forward over the counter, unsure. Looking as though he half expected a kiss or a slap and would welcome either so long as Winnie kept gazing at him.
A twinge of pity twisted my stomach, I couldn't like what we were about to do. Like I said, the place was headed out of business and didn't need our help. Once the boy was near enough my sister leaned in to whisper, “I don't want to hurt you, but I will if you make me.”
“Wh-what do you mean?” He stammered, the smile still trembling on the edge of his mouth as though he thought this was some flirty BDSM game. The tag on his green vest said, 'Hi! My name is STAN. How may I serve you today?'
I really didn't like to play with people, so I broke in, “Look, just do what my sister says and no one has to die today.”
All the air left Winter in a hiss as she turned a black look toward me. Her light gray eyes grew darker, like storm clouds rolling in off the plains. The pleasantness slid off her face like the mask it was. Her eyes emptied of that spark that made her look more alive than everyone else, leaving behind the eyes of a killer, a stone-cold psychopathic monster. She scared even me when she went all spooky like that. She whispered, “Thanks for spoiling all the fun, sissy.”
“What's going on?” Stan said with confusion and a hint of excitement. Usually words like 'die' snap people out of being mesmerized by boobies, even if said body parts are a masterpiece. Stan didn't seem to be all that bright, however, because he was still smiling at Winnie and alternately glaring at me like I'd done some social faux pas and didn't realize it.
Rolling my eyes, I flung back my jacket. I placed my hand on my hip and assumed the stance which every man recognizes as the 'angry woman.' The motion drew attention to the gun in it's black holster on my white clad thigh. Even though my jacket didn't extend that low, he hadn't paid enough attention to me to notice that I was armed until then. Finally, Stan seemed to realize it wasn't a game and that he might be in some personal danger.
A look of betrayal crept over his face as he looked from my thigh to Winter's harsh eyes. Without hesitation, good ol' Stan reached below the counter. He was probably going for a gun, the idiot. Winter jacked him square in the face with the butt of her hand.
Before he had time to scream, “Ahh, god, my nose!” I had the gun out and pointed at him. He seemed a bit disoriented, but at least he was convinced that we were serious. Never underestimate the effect a good blow to the nose will have on someone.
Winter laughed. When she was finished, the brittle smile that remained did not quite reach her eyes before it too evaporated like it had never existed. Blood fountained, dribbling across Stan's mouth and down his chin. His nose had to be broken. Winnie could be over-zealous sometimes.
“Like she said, we don't want to hurt you.” I tried reasoning, cajoling. In my best soothing tone, like I was talking a jumper off a ledge, I repeated, “No one has to die. Just give us the contents of the cash register and we'll leave. Don't be brave. However much is in there, it can't be worth your life, can it?”
Stan stared from one to the other, pain and incredulity bleeding into outrage. His hand reached under the counter again, and I pressed the barrel of the gun to his forehead, “Look, kid, I'm not good with guns. I couldn't tell you what model or caliber this is. But at this range, if I shoot you, various parts of you will explode. Just open the cash register.”
He must not have believed I would shoot him, which made him much dumber than he looked. AKA very fucking stupid. His hand kept moving and he seemed to touch something below the counter. I had no idea what he could have done. There was no point in panic buttons that called the police. The cops didn't patrol this far out of the city. They couldn't make it in time to stop me. It was truly no man's land. You bought protection from the vampires, or you were bare to the world. I demanded, “What did you do?”
Something banged around in the back of the shop which made Stan smile, Winnie laugh and my eyebrows draw down together. I thought he was alone, I must have been wrong. This was supposed to be an easy job. All eyes turned to the door to the storage area as the steady thuddy shuffling sound grew nearer.
Then it emerged. An older zombie lurched its way into the front of the store, one broken leg dragging behind it. I know it was an older one because the stench of decay flowed away from it like a precursor of bad things to come. Whatever Stupid Stan did under the counter must have released it from a cage or a room in the back. A guard zombie. Who would have thought it? Who would keep the walking dead as pets? What had we gotten ourselves into?
It was male, and dressed in the tattered remains of it's funeral suit. It's short, straw-like brown hair stuck up at odd angles, and one eye was shriveled like a dried cranberry in it's socket. The foot on the broken leg still had it's shiny (if scuffed) wing tip shoe tied securely, but the other foot was bare, and dirty. It had been shot in the chest, and greenish gray fluid leaked from the wound in a slimy trail down it's blue dress shirt. It had obviously been busy protecting the store like a good little guard corpse. Too creepy.
“That was stupid of you Stan.” I said. Winter laughed again. What was with her?
Taking careful aim I fired at the zombie's head, and missed. The kickback flung my arm, and felt like it was trying to dislocate my shoulder. It probably was, vile thing. I wasn't lying when I said I didn't know much about guns. Oh well, nothing like learning on the job.
Aiming again I tried for the chest and hit it's shoulder, blowing the arm completely off in a spray of rancid liquid and meatier, rotting bits. What kind of bullets were in the damn thing? The zombie kept up it's shuffling gate toward us, and Stan crouched behind the counter to hide from it. The arm crawled forth, using it's fingers to propel itself.
The arm went for Winnie, and the corpse went for me. Figured. Winnie danced back out of the arm's grasp, giggling and throwing a bag of popcorn at it. The groping hand grabbed the popcorn and sent it showering all about as it shook it like a dog worrying a bone. Grabbing a four pack of Redbull off an endcap display, she pinged each can off the back of the hand. It searched blindly for it's assailant, crushing a can with a splash. Giggling, she clapped her hands and looked around for something else to throw at the amazing grabby arm.
“Errrrrrr...” The corpse said as it shambled in my general direction.
As you have probably guessed, zombies aren't incredibly intelligent. They are nonrespondent to pain or threats. You cannot bully a reanimated corpse. The lights are on, but nobody's home. You can cut them to bits, and the bits still wiggle forward, seeking a target. The only real way to kill them is fire. Burning the store down around us didn't seem like a viable plan for obvious reasons.
That opened the question of how it got there without eating someone's brains or worse. Was Stupid Stan the creature's Animator? Did it take orders from the little lad behind the counter? Somehow I doubted it. That meant a hired witch was working for the store owners, and had herded the poor thing into a cage.
Shuffling forward, the corpse repeated, “Errrrrrr...”
“What a magical day to be alive.” Winnie laughed, she had found the ice cream at the back of the store and was proceeding to throw carton after carton at the trash compacting hand.
Seriously? What was she thinking? Was she thinking? Probably not. I couldn't waste time gaping at my sister because I was too busy backing away from the walking dead.
My back hit the cool glass of the door and the bells jingled softly from the bump. I was out of space, and I couldn't leave without the money. They just wouldn't understand if I came back with an excuse like, 'But there was a zombie, and it was scary!' That was such a little girl thing to say, anyway.
It was only about 8 feet away. Seconds were ticking by. The sand was leaking from the hourglass. My eyes darted frantically about, my mind moved a mile a minute. The gun wasn't going to work, but I clutched it in my sweaty grip like a security blanket, it didn't make me feel safer. I had exhausted all my options. There was only one thing I could try.
“Stop!” I shouted at the zombie. It hesitated, turning it's head and looking at me in a strangely birdlike gesture.
The thing about magic is you have to really believe it's going to work. The power isn't in the words you use, or the hand movements, or any paraphernalia. It's in your belief. A second of doubt when you are doing something crazy like summoning a demon, and ding dong the witch is dead. The key is confidence and knowledge. I don't know much about the undead, and I don't have much confidence, so it only hesitated and watched me for a few seconds before it took another step. That was time enough for me to gather my wits and screw up my courage.
“Go back to your grave!” Definitely the creepiest thing I have ever said. True story. But I had confidence that it would listen to me. I did. It was so going to listen to me. Really. “Go back to your grave and lie down, never to rise again.”
He turned his head again, and I realized he was trying to get a better angle with his one good eye. Juicy substance dribbled from the ruin of his shoulder and splatted onto the brown and white tile floor. Stupid Stan whimpered from his hiding place behind the counter, he was crying. The zombie turned his head toward the sound and sniffed the air. He smelled the blood from Stan's nose. Bad news for Stan.
This is just a wild supposition, but I am going to say that Stan didn't summon Mr. Zombieguy from his grave and didn't know how to control him or have any desire to do so even if he could. I wondered if he thought at all before he released Big Nasty there from wherever he was stored.
Zombie took one staggering step nearer to the counter, then paused to look at me. Obviously, whatever power was in the corpse was considering my command, but the fresh blood and fear scent from Stan was almost too tempting to pass up.
Looking around, I spotted a blue box of salt near the end of the closest aisle. Salt is one of the oldest purifying agents used in magic. It can even be used as a talisman against evil. A handful thrown in the face of most mildly stupid bogymen will stop them. It works on ghosts and Fae too, not that Fae are stupid. But I digress. I was counting on the stupidity of the walking dead backed by my belief in salt. SALT. But it was the best I could come up with.
Why was I protecting Stupid Stan with his bloody nose and zombie button? The zombie wouldn't come after me now that I had demonstrated my power. Maybe I was the stupid one.
No, it wasn't that. It had nothing to do with Stan. Now that the zombie was listening to me, I felt responsible for him. He wasn't just the walking dead now, he was my walking dead. I needed to see him at peace. Reanimating corpses was nasty business. I did not approve. Let the dead rest, for Christ's sake.
I grabbed the canister of salt and the smiling little girl on the label with her umbrella seemed to mock me with her cheeriness. I fumbled with the top, cutting my thumb trying to get the metal tab open. Yay for me. Finally, the sparkling white crystals spilled forth. I had a handful of salt, only slightly pink from my blood. Salt caked the cut, it stung like hell.
“Shit.” I muttered, I wanted to suck my thumb to remove the salt, but I figured that the corpse about to eat Stan was slightly more pressing than my little wound.
A laugh rang out from the back of the store, Winnie was still having a grand old time with the arm. Food product littered every aisle. The place was a mess. I could practically hear the bacteria reproducing on the floor. It was really disgusting. I wondered who was going to clean up my sister's mess. All I knew was, it wasn't going to be me. Not this time, anyhow.
I was stalling, and I knew it. I was thinking about anything but the words of power I was about to speak. I had a binding agent, a purifying agent. I was strong enough. I had to be.
“Err...” said the zombie as he thudded against the counter. Time was up. I had to do it. I flung the salt at the creature with all the confidence I could muster. It was going to work. It had to, it just did.
“With salt I command you back to the earth. With my power I order you to return to your grave and rest.” I filled the simple statement with as much power as I could pull from the air around me. I poured more salt into my palm and threw it in the corpse's face. “Rest for eternity. Slumber for all time. Never rise again.”
Sure, it was dramatic. But it worked, and that's all that matters at times like this. Right? The zombie turned and shuffle thudded his way past me to the door and walked into it over and over. He was trying to get back to his grave, unable to read the words 'Pull to open.' Calmly and without fear I walked over and opened the door for him.
“After you, dearly departed.” I grinned at my own little joke as I said it. The night was beginning to look up. The zombie shuffled out into the darkness, the starry sky twinkled overhead as gaudy as a black velvet sequined blanket. I had full confidence that it would creep back to it's grave and lie down, dead forever. The earth would churn up to cover it automatically. I just knew it, and because I did, it would happen. How cool is that?
Winnie's laugh echoed through the store again, as gleeful and carefree as the little girl on the salt carton in my hand. That's when it hit me: the arm. Well, not literally. I mean, the thought hit me.
“Wait!” I yelled after the zombie. “You have to take your arm with you.”
But he didn't listen. He carried on across the parking lot. Shuffle, thud. Thud, shuffle. Shuffle, thud. My spell had worked too well, he was headed back to his grave. For eternity. Without his wayward appendage. Heh. My bad.
“Winnie, stop fooling around.” I called to the back of the store. I am not usually the one giving orders. Maybe it was the confidence I summoned to control Mr. Zombieguy, maybe it was just my frustration peeking through. “Let's finish this and go home.”
Winter hopped around the arm and jogged up to the counter, click-clacking all the way in her idiotic red shoes. “That was fun.”
“Whatever. Stupid Stan, are you ready to cooperate, or do I really need to shoot you?” I asked, peering over the counter.
Stan didn't respond. He was crying so hard that he was shaking. Snot and blood caked his little fuzz of mustache, it dripped down onto his vest and stained the white tee under it. His face was already bruising and swelling from the broken nose. He looked pitiful.
I wondered if he had known what would happen if he pushed the zombie release button. Some security system that turned out to be. I'm guessing the zombie was a surprise even to him. How much punishment did he deserve for his initial defiance? I thought he had suffered plenty. He was scared shitless. Good enough. I ordered, “Open the register.”
Stupid Stan lived up to his nickname and didn't move. I hopped over the counter and stared at the cash register. I am positive that it wasn't exactly cutting edge technology, but I had never seen one before. After a few seconds of looking at the damn thing, all but scratching my head like a chimpanzee doing a math problem, I did some inspired thinking; I rung up a sale.
The drawer slid open. I grabbed the cash and shoved it into one of the white plastic bags that were beside the register. It had THANK YOU printed on it three times in large green letters. I found that nicely ironic.
I did all this while clutching the gun like a life line. My fingers were pale and dough-like where they gripped the black handle, the nickel plated barrel glinted menacingly in the sharp fluorescent lighting. I didn't like it, but I couldn't see myself putting it down just yet, either. My blue glitter nail polish was chipped from where I bit my nails. I wished that I had taken it off, it looked horrible. What a strange thing to think at a time like that. Isn't it funny the random garbage the mind will produce to keep from focusing on the present?
Blankly, I stared at the empty cash register drawer. I was officially a law breaker. Well, maybe that had been official the moment I had entered the premises armed and with the intent to rob it... I had no idea the letter of the law. Actually, come to think of it, I didn't really care either. I only did what I had to do, like always. Please understand that terrorizing mildly retarded store clerks was never a favorite pastime of mine, but I had run short on options as far as I could tell.
After a few seconds of consideration, I grabbed the bottle cap that someone had turned in for a free Coke, and a coupon for .30 cents off a bag of Doritos. May as well go whole hog. They went into the bag with the cash. A few cartons of cigarettes went into a second bag, followed by cigars. It made more sense to me to take the cigars because they cost more, even though I didn't know anyone who smoked them and I certainly had no intention of taking them up. Nasty habit, smoking.
“Why are you doing this?” Stan asked, looking up at me from his perch on the floor with red rimmed eyes. He seemed to be gaining control of himself, and I wanted to be gone before he started thinking about stopping us again.
“Why do you think, genius?” I asked, waving the bag of money. I passed the bag of cigarettes & etc to my smiling sister over the counter. People asked the dumbest questions at times like that. Never anything intelligent like, 'How bad are you going to kill me?'
“This is what's going to happen.” I said, hopping over the counter. Winnie was being strangely silent. “We are going to leave now. You are going to stay down there for half an hour and then you are going to call the owner and tell him what happened. Let him know that next time it won't be a couple of teenagers in the middle of the night, next time it'll be worse. He'll know what it means.”
I gestured with the gun without thinking and Stan flinched. What was he doing working the nightshift, anyway? Around here they called it the graveyard shift for a reason. Didn't he know there were worse things in the darkness than a pair of girls? We weren't monstrous.
Aside from the fact that Winnie was a sociopath and maybe so was I, we were pretty normal. Frankly, I would rather have been at home watching Gossip Girl than holding up a gas station. You could trust me on that one. Well, maybe normal wasn't the word for us, but we weren't that weird. Okay, we were... but considering that our mother was an alpha werelion and we didn't know who our dad was, we were doing alright.
My point being, silly little boys like Stan needed to be at home when the sun went down, all bolted up in their nice little white suburbia. If they were smart they'd be hiding behind an arsenal, with silver coated bullets loaded in the shotgun. Maybe that was just me, though. Maybe I was paranoid. Being raised in a vampire compound by wereanimals would do that to you.
Winnie raised her eyebrows at me and grinned, then pointed at the door. Clearly she was inquiring if I was ready to go, so I nodded and took a step forward. Something occurred to me, I paused, half turning back. “Hey Stupid Stan, give me your wallet.”
Winnie giggled and clapped her hands, bouncing on her toes. She must not have thought of that. But there wasn't much cash in the bag, and I doubt the free bottle of Coke was going to make up the weight difference to the big boys. After all, wasn't the money the point of our little misadventure?
Stan grasped the counter with one shaky hand and pulled himself up. He leaned heavily on it and looked around. He saw the drips of zombie juice on the floor, the arm flopping around down the aisle. I kid you not, he turned green before he doubled over and puked all over the place. On the counter, on the floor, down himself. It was disgusting, worse than the food mess. Worse than the zombie. I can't begin to imagine the horror that was crossing my face as I stared at him, but it must have been pretty blatant because he actually looked offended when he had finished.
“Wh-what?” Stan asked, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. Gross. Had he never heard of Kleenex?
His level of stupidity was beginning to get on my nerves. I knew that you couldn't exactly get college grads to work as counter boys, but come on. So far the commands had been simple, easy. All he had to do was listen to me and not hurl and none of the crazy zombie shit would have gone down.
Zombies never scared me, but clowns and throw up did. As the thought occurred to me, I realized there was a clown cigarette lighter by the register. Who would purchase such a thing? Clearly no one in their right mind. Clowns were bad enough, but a flame producing clown? Really? It gave me the willies so bad.
“I am getting frustrated by your lack of cooperation, Stan.” I said, I smiled and I knew it wasn't pleasant. There had to be more than a hint of crazy in my eyes. There was a splat of throw up actually on the clown lighter. I couldn't not look at it. “Give me your wallet.”
“Oh, bother.” Winter muttered. Then she clicked around the counter in her high heels. She took the wallet from Stan's back pocket. It was attached to his pants by a silver chain, and that made me laugh. Winnie echoed me, and Stan jumped as though struck and looked frantically from one of us to the other. Still smiling, she unhooked the clasp and took the wallet. Absently, I wondered if there was throw up back there and if she had stepped in it.
As Winnie rounded the counter, I pointed at the clock with my gun, “Remember, Stan: 30 minutes.”
I have a flare for drama.