Author's Note/Disclaimer: The Angel characters were created by Joss Whedon.
And once again, I have to plead illness. I'm whole-heartedly sorry and should be back to writing shortly. In the meantime, accept this old story of mine as a peace offering.
X X X X X
I shall never go grocery shopping again.
At least, not late at night without more than a cross and a stake to protect me.
I'm not a damned hand-to-hand fighter. Never have been, and though with Angel's training I've finally reached the level where I don't feel as though I belong on the Benny Hill show I strongly suspect my skills in personal combat will never be more than adequate.
But give me something to shoot, or something to throw --
And of course, after having given Angel a hard time for not using his cellular phone when he was trapped in the meat locker by Gunn and his compatriots, here I leave mine in the office.
I'd only be gone for a minute, I thought, what harm could it do?
Next time I shall remember to glue the thing to my hip, if need be, to avoid leaving it behind. Otherwise I wouldn't be stuck in this situation.
I imagine you're confused right now. On the other hand, you're not the one who is currently trapped in a Safeway with at least three vampires stalking you, so forgive me if I don't care as much about your confusion as perhaps I should.
Still, no need to be entirely rude about it. Permit me to set up the situation, if I may.
A couple of hours ago I was in Cordelia's apartment (along, of course, with Cordelia) and for once Dennis was behaving rather well. We were using her place as our temporary headquarters while we tried to decide where our new permanent abode would be, and we had just completed a case. A trivial one, really; I shan't bore you with the details.
In any event we were doing paperwork, Cordelia handling the financial details and me taking the notes on the case, when suddenly Cordelia began to swear. I looked up sharply, in case it was trouble; but no, she was standing in front of the refrigerator. And horror movies aside, the only thing to emerge from a refrigerator capable of striking terror into people's hearts is week-old tuna salad.
And if there's one thing I'm quite certain of it's that Cordelia Chase will not have anything nearly so declasse in her refrigerator as a tuna salad sandwich.
"What is it?" I asked mildly.
"I'm out of water."
I pointed to the faucet; foolish of me, I know. Cordelia regarded me as if I was one of the more dense human beings she'd met. "Drink from a faucet?" She said it as though I'd suggested she quench her thirst by lapping directly from the toilet.
"Am I to take it that's a no?"
"Got that right, Sherlock," Cordelia said. "Only spring water for this girl."
"Well then," I said, "I believe there's a convenience store down the block -"
"Look, just because I drink spring water doesn't mean I'm made of money. No thank you. I get mine from the Safeway a mile up."
I knew where the store was. "Would you like a ride, then?"
"I'd love to," she sighed. "But with our records in the state they're in -"
"Are you," I asked, "requesting that I volunteer my services in both driving and purchasing?"
"Please?" And she asked me straightforwardly; no anger, no coy flirtatiousness, just a request from one adult to another.
Cordelia had indeed grown since I'd known her in Sunnydale.
"Very well then," I sighed. "Evian, then?"
"Please! Evian is so 20th Century! Naya, okay?"
"I shall return presently with a six-pack."
And this brought me to the Safeway - which, since it was quarter of midnight, closed in fifteen minutes. I hastily made my way through the store and grabbed the spring water, then walked to the registers. Only one cashier remained; out of the corner of my eye I could see others punching out on a time clock and walking out the front door.
I was just about to hand the cashier my money when I heard a commotion at the front of the store. "What's -" he began, and we both spun to see what was going on.
A gang had just invaded the store, carrying chains and knives. Sighing, I reached for my wallet . . . until I saw what they did to the customer just ahead of me, who'd just been leaving the store. The lead member of the gang took the woman, flattened her against the wall -
And then changed the shape of his face and ripped open the side of the woman's neck, and all three took a turn at feeding. I thrust my wallet back in my pocket and did one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life - I forbore from taking action. It would have only gotten me killed, and the woman was dead already. I'd wait until they were done and split up to make my move.
The cashier had no such compunctions, turning and running towards the back of the store. A muffled scream confirmed for me my worst fears; I edged towards where I'd heard it and saw, as I'd expected, another vampire blocking off the back exit. And unless I missed my guess there'd be at least one and possibly two more to block off any other exits.
If I ran fast enough I COULD probably make the back of the store; unless this was a veritable vampire army they couldn't possibly be blocking off every route to every exit. If it were an army, of course, I had other difficulties, not the least of which was my probable imminent death and dismemberment.
Not that that was precisely out of the question even now, of course. But I intended to postpone it as long as possible. To the three customers behind me I yelled, "Scatter!" and immediately ran towards the spice aisle, grabbing a couple of containers of Tic Tacs along the way.
Behind me, I noticed two of the other customers sprinting to various parts of the store; the third was jumped by one of the vampires before he could get away. Damn. I quickly grabbed a couple of glass containers of garlic and hastened back, unscrewing the lids as I came. The vampire looked up as I ran forward, making it very easy for me to throw the contents in his face.
His face burned. If you weren't aware, vampires react to garlic as though it were diluted holy water, so I had to work quickly, especially as the other two vampires had realized what was going on. I threw the Tic Tacs on the floor in their direction and pulled the hapless customer to his feet. Though bleeding from the arm, he was conscious. "Run," I instructed him hastily as I drew out my stake and killed the garlic-stricken vampire.
His two compatriots were running towards me. One slipped on the candy; the other did not. I beat a hasty retreat, towards the produce section, making sure to grab my stake as I went. Both vampires followed me; I picked up a couple of grapefruit and tossed them in their direction as I ran.
Suddenly there was a sound of gunfire from the back of the store. Everyone stopped in their tracks; I took advantage of the momentary confusion to toss a boxload of pistachios onto the floor and ran towards the source of the shots.
One vampire lay on the ground twitching, missing most of the top of his head, while another had a hole in the center of his chest and was leaning against a meat display to steady himself. A third was feeding from a middle- aged man's throat. The man carried a pistol in his now slack left hand.
I skidded to a stop and looked behind me. The two vampires were on their way. I staked the two helpless vampires as I ran by - missing the one with the head wound, unfortunately, not that he would have likely been a problem anyway. A shot in the head may not actually kill a vampire, but it will SEVERELY reduce its intelligence. With this mind, I pried the pistol from the man's cold, dead fingers, slammed the female vampire into a display of Lysol Spray, and darted through the swinging doors which led to the back of the store.
I looked around quickly - no one in sight. I had to regroup. I'd killed or injured more vampires in the last two minutes than I had in the previous two months, and despite my Watcher's training and my occasional boasts I was no more a truly experienced demon hunter than I was a professional wrestler. There were stairs leading up, and I took them.
The upstairs consisted only of a couple of offices, a security room - from a picture on the wall that had been the man with the gun downstairs - and a sizeable break room. There was only the one way up. I took a quick check of the security cameras and saw four people left alive in the store, though I had no way of knowing how long that would last. There were no other guns in the office, or weapons of any sort - and whatever ammunition the security officer had used in his weapon was too well hidden for me to find. I unloaded the pistol and found two bullets remaining. It would be better than nothing, but I fervently wished I had a crossbow, some darts, ANYTHING I could throw that would hit harder than a grapefruit or an egg. Nothing. And I was hardly MacGyver to construct a crossbow out of three celery stalks and a Wrigley's Gum wrapper, which were, apart from a sealed bottle of ginger ale, the only things in the refrigerator. Nor did the snack cabinet contain anything more useful than a bag of stale potato chips. There was a knife in the sink, for which I was quite grateful.
The microwave, though . . . I could make use of that, if I timed it right. I unplugged it and looked for an outlet anywhere near the top of the stairs. There was one, but no shelf nearby. Still, it was better than nothing. I plugged it in, retrieved the bottle of ginger ale, and placed it inside the oven, which I then set. I checked the pistol and made sure my two bullets were loaded properly. They were. Then I looked over the railing onto the floor below. There was a pallet of Chips Ahoy directly beneath me.
And then there was no more time for plotting, because the two pursuing vampires spotted my head and charged after me. Beginning a silent count, I set the microwave for two minutes and held the gun where the vampires couldn't see it. Then I went down the stairs and set up as though I were a glove man.
As I'd hoped, the vampires wasted a few seconds in laughing before they attacked. Due to where I was they could only come at me one at a time. As the first one came at me, I drew the pistol and calmly shot him in the head, but was denied the opportunity to stake him by his compatriot.
I have said it before: Hand-to-hand is not my specialty. Nonetheless, I have been improving, and had the added help of knowing exactly what I was fighting, and the best ways to kill it. Nonetheless, we rolled around on the floor until my count had reached 26. At that point I finally managed to throw him off and ran up the stairs.
Seconds later, of course, he followed me. If I remembered correctly -
I had With about ten seconds to go the microwave began to shake. The vampire looked at me - or rather, looked at where I had been, because at the first sign of shaking I vaulted the rail and landed on the chocolate chip cookies. Not the softest landing one could have hoped for, but at least it wasn't, say, a pallet of Campbell's Soups.
I rolled off the crushed cookies, but before I could do anything else, the microwave door exploded open, knocking the vampire down and showering him with scalding-hot ginger ale. A few seconds later, I cut his screams short when I staked him. On the way back down I got his companion, who was still quivering.
And this brings me to where I was when I began this narrative: Trapped in the grocery store, with at least three vampires presumably chasing after me. I couldn't judge whether they'd be the type to take vengeance on me for killing their friends, or whether they'd have just shrugged it off and headed for higher ground. I'm not all that keen on finding out, but apparently I'm the only one in the store - save the poor dead security guard, bless him - who had any notions of fighting back and I'm forced to assume the worst.
Tentatively, I walk back towards the main part of the store, gun and knife at the ready. I hear nothing as I stick my head through the swinging double doors - no sounds of violence, no screaming, no pattering footsteps. Either everyone was dead or everyone had run off.
Or the vampires were the only ones left in the store.
Wait - there was a commotion on the far end, towards the frozen foods. Fine. I would therefore head towards the other end the store to see if I could circle around. As I come down the produce aisle I pick up a couple of the horned melons - prickly little things, those -- and for the hell of it take a couple of bananas, eat one, and peel the rest, keeping the peels and flinging the fruit on the floor.
Turning the corner towards the front of the store, I notice a man hiding by the first register. I creep up on him and say, "What are you doing?"
"Hiding," he says nervously, looking at me. "I, I didn't want to break for the exit . . . look, look . . ." I peer around the corner, and sure enough two more vampires are standing there.
So where is the third? And who had caused the commotion at the far end of the store?
No time for that at the moment. "What's your name?"
"Clay. Bill Clay," he says. "Yours?"
"Wesley. And I think it's high time we got you out of here."
"B-but what if they run after me?" Mr. Clay blubbers.
"Then you run faster. Now follow me." We make our way back down the produce aisle. If I remember correctly, there's an emergency exit at the rear of the store.
"S-so," he says, stuttering, "Do you do this sort of thing all the time?"
"What sort of thing?" I asked politely as we darted from one end-of-aisle display area to the next.
"Y-you know. Kill them. V-vampires."
We pause between the juncture of the spice aisle and the cereal aisle. "On occasion, I have been known to take one or two out . . . though admittedly never this many at once. Fortunately, this seems to be a fairly stupid bunch."
"Oh?" Mr. Clay asks.
"Yes." I look down the spice aisle; neither other vampire is in view. Then I again reach for the garlic powder and pull open a couple of shakers. "Here," I say, handing him one. "Take this. If one of the vampires attacks you -"
But he refuses it. "No," he says. "No. I-I- I just want to get of here."
"Really," I say. "You need some protection." As he begins to decline again, I tell him with a hint of steel in my voice, "I'm afraid I must insist."
And abruptly Mr. Clay straightens up and stops sniveling. "How did you know?"
"I could go on with my years of training and my extensive knowledge of vampires and their lore," I say, "But the truth is, it was your choice of pseudonyms." He looks at me oddly. "I may not have an extensive knowledge of popular culture," I explain. "But I HAVE seen Die Hard."
And Mr. Clay shakes his head and curses. "I knew it. I've always had a problem with being too cutesy GUYS! I'VE GOT THE BASTARD RIGHT HERE!" The two vampires from the front of the store come down the aisle towards me.
I throw one of the open garlic containers in his face, turn, and fling my arsenal of fruit at the approaching demons and scatter the other garlic shaker on the floor The horned melons bounce off their heads, but the banana peels and the burning from the garlic buy me a moment. Alas, Mr. Clay is a bit more stalwart than his compatriot vampires, and grabs my leg as I go by. By the time I kick my way free the other two vampires are almost upon me. I turn and run, needing distance, and fire the last remaining bullet. It tears a hole in the throat of one of my irritated pursuers, but the other keeps coming.
So, after tossing aside the now useless weapon, I do something against my instincts. I stop and turn around. As I anticipated, my opponent crashes into me - and my now-raised stake.
Seconds later, he's dust and I breathe a MASSIVE sigh of relief. On my way back to take care of Mr. Clay, I dispose of his remaining lackey.
Mr. Clay, of course, is nowhere to be seen. Has he truly bolted, or -
My answer comes when he jumps out from behind a Spaghetti-Os display and tackles me. "YOU just had to be here," he says.
I don't respond, because I'm too busy fighting for my life.
And of course, him being stronger, he pummels me. Damn it, why couldn't I have had this combat at a distance? I'm no good in hand-to-hand with a vampire. All my training . . .
No. This is not the time for a crisis of conscience. I've carried myself well enough so far, I can finish it. Grabbing one of the cans of fluorescent pasta, I smash him in the skull with it until he releases me and I can get clear.
Then I have an idea. As Mr. Clay gets up to chase me, I grab something from the display are near a register and run down the aisle where they keep the cooking supplies.
First he peers around the corner, presumably to see if I throw something at him. But I don't. I just stand there at the far end of the aisle, smirking.
Too widely, perhaps? He notices the empty bottles of cooking oil at my feet, looks at the floor and sees the fluid there. "I'm so sorry, Mr. McLain," he says, and carefully walks down the edge of the aisle towards me. Halfway there, noticing that I'm not running, he stops and frowns. "What's going on?" he asks suspiciously.
In answer, I fling a can of Crisco at his head; it hits him, and he goes down face-first into the oil.
Then I quickly take the cigarette lighter I picked up earlier, kneel and light the oil. Mr. Clay tries to rise, but of course he's lying in oil and cannot.
As the flames grow closer, I can't resist, "Yippe-ki-ay."
"Yippe-ki ay, motherfucker," he spits out. "They always censor it on television."
"Fortunate for you we're not on television, then."
And then he turns to ashes and I hear sirens in the background. Though I'm glad to hear that in a way, it occurs to me that being the sole living human inside a ransacked grocery store with several dead bodies might not be the surest way to a long and happy future. So I turn and run out the emergency exit.
There are police coming down the alley; fortunately, they haven't seen me yet. I dive into the garbage dumpster and cover myself as best I can.
They don't see me. Unfortunately, they hang around the back alley for another half an hour, minimum. So it's over an hour later by the time I finally stagger back to Cordelia's apartment, covered in bumps, bruises, scratches, my clothing torn, and smelling strongly of rancid lettuce.
She looks up at me and says, "Don't tell me you forgot the Naya."
I believe they shall consider this justifiable homicide.