Gale didn’t usually shop at the SuperSav, but it was the only grocery store near the Border that was open all night long. The need to accomodate his vampire’s assistant’s nocturnal hours had thrown off his entire schedule. Nowadays he slept the day away, and had to shop at SuperSav in the evening as a result.
It wasn’t that SuperSav was a dingy grocery store like Piggly-Dixie, whose Spartan designs and lack of staff allowed for lower prices. Quite the contrary; SuperSav was refreshingly modern, brightly lit, and designed to appeal to the eye, if not the checkbook. No; SuperSav looked great, but Gale was not comfortable doing his grocery shopping in one. He was never sure if he was shopping or being shopped for in a SuperSav.
SuperSav catered to supernatural creatures as well as humans. In a world where humans and magical creatures co-existed, one of the few places where it was truly side-by-aside was in the grocery store. Vampires and werewolves had to eat too and SuperSav catered to them as well as to humans.
Gale was in the drink aisle grabbing his soda of choice, Uni-Cola. On the shelf, adjacent to the sodas, were fruit punch for humans and blood bags for vampires. A human girl, up way too late for her age, was picking up her favorite Kool-Aid while the vampire beside her thoughtfully chose between type O- and type AB+. Neither spared each other a glance.
At the end of the aisle, against the far wall, bargain conscious old ladies were shoving slobbering werewolves aside as each tried to get to the meat of the day. The old ladies, thanks to their handbags full of loose change and unwrapped hard candies, came out on top more often than Gale expected and forced a dejected werewolf to take a lesser cut of meat. Nearby, homeless Brownies were crawling in the dairy section, struggling to extract a half gallon of milk. Gale felt sorry for them; Brownies needed a home and an occupant who left a small bowl of milk out for them to find true happiness.
Every SuperSav had a spell of pacification on it, the parking lot, and the lands for a half mile in every direction. SuperSavs were islands of peace in the contentious world of Human-Supernatural relations. It was for this reason there were no incidents at the grocer. Only extremely powerful supernatural creatures or supremely strong-willed humans could resist the pacification spell and wreak havoc, and those types usually couldn’t be bothered.
That didn’t stop the looks of anger and distrust between the magical and non-magical, though. Gale slipped past a mummy in the pasta aisle as he reached for a can of tomato paste. The mummy mumbled under its breath.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Gale, noticing the mummy’s full cart of bag after bag of cat litter. It was impolite to stare, but Gale could fathom no reason why a mummy would need cat litter. They were terrified of cats.
“I said,” grated the mummy in a dusty voice, “Your flesh would make my scarab beetles happy. They love young men.”
“I, ah, see,” said Gale. “I’m sure I’m flattered, but, ah, I’d like to keep my flesh on me.”
“Shame,” said the mummy, looking at Gale’s threadbare jacket, “You’re not doing much with it.”
“Well,” said Gale, “You’re hardly one to talk. Your wrappings are so thin I can see your desiccated corpse underneath.”
Gale knew he had made a mistake even before he finished speaking. His internal censor had chosen the exact wrong time to go on break. The mummy stepped forward and loomed over Gale, its preternatural eyes turning from grey to a light shade of red. A fine mist of dust fell from the creature and onto Gale’s head as he looked up at the mummy. Undulating lumps under its wrappings started moving and chittering. Scarab beetles.
Gale knew he should be terrified – that he should turn tail and run as fast as he could – but he couldn’t seem to hold on to the terror and it slipped away. The mummy, too, deflated as its anger left. The pacification spell was working. The mummy shook itself off, spraying more of its magically inexhaustible dust everywhere. Gale sneezed into the inside of his elbow, eyes watering.
“You should be careful human,” said the mummy with a distinct lack of anger or emotion thanks to the pacification spell. “You won’t always have the protection of a grocery store.”
“Ah, listen,” said Gale, reaching into his jacket and withdrawing his business card. Business card was a stretch for the dog-eared cardboard he held in his hand. He had no budget for business cards; his was made from hand cut construction paper, a glue stick, and a box of crayons.
“I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot. Times are hard for all of us. My jacket. Your wrappings. None of us are were we expect to be, right?” He handed the card to the mummy, “If you ever want to talk about it, get the frustration off your chest, come see me. Me and my vampire assistant work every weeknight.”
“Unlikely,” said the mummy as it turned and shuffled away. “I was cursed centuries before you were born and you think I can just talk my issues out and you’d understand and relate? As if.”
Gale grimaced at the dismissive tone even as he wondered where the mummy had picked up the human affection, “as if.” Still, the mummy didn’t drop the card but instead shoved it somewhere in it’s wrappings. He counted that as a victory. A small one, but a victory nonetheless.
Gale leaned against the aisle to catch his breath and recover but there was nothing to recover from. He was fine. He doubted his heart rate was above normal and his blood pressure was probably normal as well. That was some pacification spell.
“That wath nicth,” a voice said behind him. “That mummy wath being a jerk. Why were you tho nicth to it?”
Gale turned. A zombie was standing too close for comfort. He stepped back and looked the creature up and down, again with a curious lack of emotion. He was curious at his lack of curiosity; a paradox threatened to recurse in his brain, so he wisely decided to let it go.
The zombie was ridiculously good looking. For a zombie. Sure, it had green skin, disheveled hair, ratty clothes, chunks of skin missing, and flies buzzing around its head. It was, after all, a zombie. But its eyes shone with intelligence, unlike the dull and lifeless stare of every other zombie Gale had seen. It wasn’t missing any limbs, and sported a noticeable lack of huge gaping holes and wounds. Like all zombies, it carried a small pocket universe of mud around with it that rained a continual muck on the ground and into its hair, but the mud didn’t have worms or bugs in it.
“Uh, ah,” said Gale. “The mummy? He wasn’t angry at me, but I was a target he could lash out against. Anger usually conceals a feeling of impotence.”
“I think tho too,” said the zombie. “When we feel outh of conthrol, we thend to geth angry. We thoud all haff thrategies to conthrol anger in today’s pee thee world. The conthequenctheth of anger can be thevere.”
Gale was having an intellectual conversation with a zombie. Zombie experts posited this as impossible. Zombies just weren’t capable of having a conversation. It was common knowledge that zombies craved brains because their own had turned to mush and sloshed between their ears. Or oozed out of whatever hole they had in their cranium.
“Ah,” he asked, “How are you able to talk to me? I thought zombies weren’t smart enough to articulate more than a word or two.”
“Motht of uth aren’t,” agreed the zombie. “But thomtimeth, if we are turned by an exthremely powerful necromanther and haff not rotted too muth we keep our inthelligence.”
Gale nodded, appreciating the new information he had just received but unsure how to continue to conversation. The universe had a strict rule on the Conservation of Dialogue and for every garrulous gabber out there, there was an inverse introvert who had trouble remembering his name when introducing himself. Gale was the latter.
“So,” he drawled into the uncomfortable silence, “I have to finish my shopping. I think I saw the brains over by the cauliflower if you were wondering.”
“I already haff thome,” the zombie hefted his basket to show off his portion of brain wrapped in clear, tight, plastic. “I acthually wanth tho thalk tho you.”
“Yeth. You’re that human thychologitht right?”
A flush of pride swept through Gale. The pacification spell didn’t stop positive emotions.
“You’ve heard of me?”
The zombie nodded, “I haff a problem. I think you might underthand and I would apprethiate your perthpective. What ith the earlietht appointment that I can haff?”
Gale bit back his exuberance and a desire to grab the zombie by the arm and drag him to the S.P.A. immediately. He had no clients other than Cynthia and the monthly check her parents wrote was barely enough to keep the doors open.
“Well,” said Gale, “I did have a cancellation tomorrow night. I could fit you in then, around nine o’clock if you could make it to my clinic.”
“Okay,” said the zombie, thrusting his hand into Gale’s. It was clammy, but strangely warm – a contradiction that caused Gales eyebrows to furrow impolitely. It was also muddy. Gale wiped his hand on his jeans and ordered his eyebrows to behave themselves.
“I’m Thid,” said the zombie.
Gale’s eyebrows did their thing again until understanding moved them back into place, “Oh! Sid. Your name’s Sid.”
“Tath’th whath I thaid. Thid.”
Gale nodded, “Ok Sid. Tomorrow night at nine. I’ll let my assistant know to expect you. See you then?”
Sid nodded, bade a lisping farewell, and made his way to the checkout lane. Gale narrowly avoided stepping on the Brownies as he continued his shopping, his excitement for his new client distracting him. Two clients in two months; business was booming. He had dreams of expanding the business, writing cutting-edge papers on psychosis in supernatural creatures, and getting lauded by the scientific community for his tireless brilliance. They were all within his reach now, his dreams.
Sid had heard of Gale and the S.P.A. Word was spreading. It was only a mater of time before he had too much business, not enough time, and would have to hire subordinate psychologists to help manage the load. He would leave the dilapidated strip mall the S.P.A. was in and relocate to the uptown M-strip, the magical buffer zone in the heart of the city.
He was dreaming and whistling softly to himself, when it dawned on him that the supermarket was quiet. The sounds of the elderly battling werewolves for meat were missing. The beeping barcodes at the checkout registers weren’t there. The Irish folk music that all SuperSavs played in an incessant attempt to drive humans and supernaturals alike insane was absent from the PA system.
He dropped a bag of mini-bagels in his cart, looking around. The aisle was empty. He walked to the end of the aisle and looked left and right; nothing.
“Hellooooo,” he called, ignoring the shiver in his spine as he pushed his cart towards the front of the store. “I, ah I’m still here if you’re closing.” There was no reply. Gale had a fleeting thought that the Rapture had just happened and he was alone on Earth. Normally this would have sent him gibbering into a corner to suck on his thumb, but thanks to the pacification spell he whimpered quietly instead. The Reemergence had seen a massive surge in church attendance. After all, if supernatural creatures were real, you couldn’t take a divine being for granted, could you?
Pacification spell or not, the silence was eerie and the only thing preventing Gale from bolting from the store was his full shopping cart. An awkward sense of social responsibility for the cart, along with irritation that he would have to refill another cart later if he left now, kept him from fleeing.
He took a breath to call out again when a slight movement of air across the back of his neck snapped his mouth shut. Whatever had driven the shoppers and staff from the store was behind him. Fear, cold and biting, washed over him. The pacification spell wasn’t strong enough to quell the dread that deadened his limbs as his heavy legs turned him around.
There were two of them, each a foot taller than he. They wore traditional robes of black, shiny, silk with cowls that cast dark shadows across their eyes and hid their features from sight. Gale immediately knew what they were, though. Everyone had heard of them, but no one had seen one. No human in recorded history had been in the presence of one, let alone two, Dark Elves. They were the super-powerful, elite, enforcers of the Fairy Court – although Fairy Court was just a made-up human name for whatever government the supernatural creatures had. How the supernaturals ruled themselves was a mystery for daytime TV and college professors.
Each was a clone of the other, from what Gale could see. Identical in height, clothing, and stance. They even sported the same malicious half smile on their obsidian faces. They were ancient, their auras so powerful that not even the pacification spell could prevent the internal rebellion Gale’s body was experiencing at this moment. His colon was thankfully quiet, having quite frankly given up on giving warnings to the rest of the body if they weren’t going to be listened to. In its place, a heretofore unknown cold pit in Gale’s stomach was stepping up to sound the alarm.
“Ahhh….hrrmmmm,” Gale tried, but failed, to make his mouth and brain agree to represent the rest of the body.
One of the Dark Elves slid forward, quick and smooth as if it were ice skating instead of walking. It slowed to a stop inches from Gale. Its presence was overwhelming. This close, its eyes were visible beneath the cowl, coal-dark and bottomless abysses that sent silent screams through Gale’s soul. His entire body started shaking and he wanted nothing more than to fall to the ground and weep, but his knees unreasonably locked and held him in place.
“Mr. Simmons,” said the Elf in a dark and silky voice, smooth and dangerous like black ice on wet roads. “We have a come to deliver a message to you.”
“A, ah, m-message?” sputtered Gale.
“Yes,” said the Elf as an unseen force pushed against Gales chest, “A message.”
Gale fell back a step, unable to resist the force pushing against him, “O-oh-kay. What’s, ah, the message?”
“We are watching you, Mr. Simmons. Tread softly; what you are doing is not well-received on our side of the Border.”
“M-my practice? I, ah, don’t understand,” said Gale. “All I am trying to do is help people.”
“Your help,” snapped the Elf as the invisible force pressed against Gale with more force, “is neither wanted nor appreciated.”
Gale’s terror was at a level he had never encountered before, but some small spark of personal and professional pride asserted itself. The rest of his body declared in no uncertain terms that this was his suicidal part and should be immediately ignored, but Gale couldn’t let it go.
Instead, he whispered through dry and trembling lips, “I rather think desire and appreciation of my efforts are not yours to judge as you are not my client. I help people. They come to me, and they appreciate what I do. I’ll let them, not you, decide if they appreciate me, thank you very much.”
The Elves never moved, but Gale found himself flying through the air, his arms windmilling in a futile attempt to grab ahold of something. He hit the aisle behind him hard enough to knock it over, and kept flying until he smashed through the glass of the freezer section and fell, limp, onto the frozen peas and newt eyeballs. Gale groaned, the edges of his vision fading to black. Every breath was painful and he couldn’t move his right arm; something was broken.
He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to take a breath. When they opened again, both Dark Elves were standing over him. They stared dispassionately down at his broken form. Their lack of emotion after almost killing him terrified Gale more than anything else had to this point.
“You have been warned, Mr. Simmons. Tread carefully.” And then they were gone, so fast that Gale couldn’t decide if they had teleported or if he had blacked out and reawakened after they had left.
Gale lay in the frozen peas and eyeballs for a few moments, trembling and taking stock of his injuries. The sounds of the supermarket started coming back to his senses. The PA system started playing an Irish drinking song, and voices and footsteps made their presence known.
Gale extricated himself from the shattered freezer, wincing at the pain of it, but was pleased to find that he had only minor cuts on his arms. Most of his damage was blunt force trauma. His right arm was dangling from his shoulder; dislocated at a minimum, broken at worst. His ribs were sore and bruised but didn’t seem broken. His head was foggy and he could feel one of his migraines coming on.
“You stood up to two Dark Elves and lived,” said an awe-filled voice. With one hand on his head, Gale looked up and saw the mummy from earlier staring at him, it’s grey eyes wide and disbelieving.
Gale coughed painfully, “I don’t know about ‘standing up’ to anything. They scared me half to death.”
“You don’t understand,” said the mummy, hauling Gale the rest of the way out of the frozen mess with a powerful, and dusty, arm . “You talked back to a Dark Elf. You contradicted one. No one does that and lives.”
“I almost didn’t,” said Gale tiredly. Then, “Wait. You heard? Where was everyone when those two accosted me?”
“Typical Dark Elf magic,” explained the mummy. “You could perceive only them. The rest of us were blocked from your senses.”
“If you were here,” said Gale, “why the hell didn’t you, or anyone, do anything?”
The mummy’s eyes widened in alarm, “You don’t get it. No one interferes with a Dark Elf performing his duty. That’s suicide.”
“Someone should have done something,” said Gale, glaring at the entire store. He limped over to his cart as the pacification spell sapped him of his ire, “Well,at least my food’s still all here.” He walked to the checkout as a small army of gremlins started reassembling the broken aisle and freezer. The mummy followed him and helped unload his cart, casting judgement on his food choices with each item he placed on the conveyor belt.
“Asparagus, man? Really? You know what that does to human piss? Saltines? Why not crackers with more flavor? Ramen noodles? Seriously, are you a college student or an adult?”
“Look,” said Gale in exasperation, “why are you here? I appreciate the help, but I don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Oh,” said the mummy, “I’m paying for your food.”
“I’m. Paying. For. Your. Food. Dummy,” said the mummy in friendly congeniality.
“But, ah, why?” asked Gale.
“Because that was the most bad-assed thing I have seen in my nine hundred years. You stood up to two Dark Elves.”
A small smattering of applause erupted from the surrounding creatures. A harpy, hideous beyond belief, winked at him. Two werewolves clapped him on the back, sending spikes of pain through his shoulder and ribs. One of the Brownies crawled up his body and sat on Gale’s uninjured shoulder.
“Here,” said the Brownie, “eat this.” He handed Gale a miniature cookie.
“I don’t understand,” said Gale, nonplussed, as he popped the cookie in his mouth. “Do you all hate Dark Elves?”
“Who doesn’t?” said the mummy with his dry, raspy, voice. “No one’s stupid enough to go against one though. What just happened here will be told for centuries. The human who defied two Dark Elves and lived. And I was here to witness it.”
The mummy paid for Gale’s food, pulling a wallet from somewhere deep within its wrappings. Gale made it a point to give his gallon of milk to the Brownies who followed him and the mummy into the parking lot. He wasn’t sure of the etiquette involved, but they had given him a cookie. He didn’t want to offend.
“So,” asked the mummy as it pushed the cart towards Gale’s Datsun, “What are you going to do?”
“The warning, dummy. You’re that human psychologist, right?”
Gale nodded, again surprised that he was known, “What do you think I should do?”
“Close shop, change your name, your career, move to another city, and get a face lift.”
“No,” said Gale. “I can’t do that. I help people. There must be an appeal process or someone I can talk to about this. I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.”
“Maybe,” said the mummy, doubt heavy in its voice. “But when a Dark Elf shows up, it usually means there is no more recourse.”
“I’ll find a way,” said Gale. “I have to. I’m supposed to be a psychiatrist who helps supernatural beings. I just need to clear this up with the authorities on your side of the Border.”
“I hated you in the grocery store,” said the mummy, “because you have what was taken from me; life. But now I feel sorry for you. This won’t end well. But I do wish you luck.”
The mummy ripped off a piece of its wrapping and handed it to Gale. “If you’re ever in need, against anything except a Dark Elf, or a dragon, burn this and I will come.”
Gale accepted the cloth. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know your name.”
“Ahmose,” said the mummy. “But you can call me Mosey.”
It may have been the adrenaline, but the pains of his injuries faded to a dull ache. He shook hands with Mosey, high-fived the Brownies, loaded the groceries into his trunk, and drove away from the SuperSav and back to the S.P.A. The cold pit in his stomach was still giving sour warning, but Gale had lost the ability to feel anything but exhaustion. Maybe Cynthia could help him figure this out.