Chapter 5: Short, Slain, and Sadly Sober
Jerry swirled the amber liquid in his cup with a grin on his face. Life had all been going so well and he still couldn't get over how quickly it had collapsed. The humans had been so proud of their progress with their computer and their technology. They'd even gone to the moon and lauded it as some great marvelous accomplishment. And what in the end had it all gotten them?
"Walkin', rottin', corpses – that's what!" He shouted with glee. The zombies outside moaned and shrieked loudly in response and banged all the louder on the front of his shop. Jerry simply chortled and took another swig from his glass. He'd known the humans would come to no good in the end and unlike all those self-righteous demons he'd been forced to associate with he'd known it would be of their own doing. He'd heard it day in and day out for centuries. Hell on Earth the demons would say. Fire and brimstone they'd claim - even if most of them didn't have one inkling of an idea what brimstone truly was. As many humans to eat and torture as they could desire every one of the ghastly beasts had believed. No, this wasn't any demonic apocalypse, he'd bet his last gold coin on it. Only humans could mess up so spectacularly as to pull off something like this. But no matter how much he'd believed they would kill themselves off he had never once thought they'd turn themselves into a bunch of walking, rotting, corpses!
Just thinking about it made Jerry want to laugh. So that's what he did – loudly. Once again the zombies seemed to thump harder in response to his taunting - pathetic creatures that they were. There were so many of them outside his shop now that he'd been forced to stick cotton soaked in lemon juice up his nostrils just so his poor sensitive nose could survive the stench.
He went to take a sip of his drink only to find the glass completely empty. Frowning in consternation he looked at the bottle only to find it too held nary a drop. Seeing as he'd yet to manage a truly proper and respectable state of inebriation he wasn't about to let an empty bottle stop him in his quest. Jerry climbed down from his stool, grumbling all the way, and headed into the back room where he kept his odds and ends. Searching high and low he found enough cursed artifacts hanging on the walls to damn an entire town if used discriminately. Filling both shelves and boxes there were enough books of arcane magic to fill a library. One that would please either an entire coven of witches or a den of sorcerers depending on the particular volumes selected. But no matter where he looked he was led to the same sad conclusion. To his utter disgust he now found that his entire stash of alcohol had already been consumed.
If he got his hands on the bugger who'd drunk it all there'd be some severe neck wringing to be had.
He turned and headed back to the front room, committing himself to search for the villain, when his nose twitched. Given that it was currently stuffed with cotton he was surprised that anything could get its attention but his nose had never failed him yet. He freed himself from the once white fluffy insulators which had by now taken up a somewhat green hue. Inhaling deeply he fought the urge to cringe at the reek of decay permeating everything. Then remembering that he was alone as could be he went ahead and cringed. His nose twitched again, slightly to the left. A sniff here, and a sniff there, and he soon found himself standing over a box of so called blessed objects. He occasionally pulled the useless things out when someone who thought themselves 'moral' came poking around his shop. He always overcharged the arrogant bastards. Stuffing the puff balls back in his nose he gave a good sniff. Satisfied that the reek was gone he turned to the box and began rummaging around for the elusive source his nose had insisted was hiding within. Moments later his hand closed on something that felt suspiciously alcoholic and he gave a shout of glee before pulling out a bottle of wine with a plain looking label. The writing on the label turned his smile into a grimace when he realized it was blessed wine, something he should have expected given which box it had been hidden in. It wasn't Christian thank goodness. The bottle had been brewed and blessed by some shaolin monks or some of their ilk from what he recalled – though he had to wonder just who exactly they thought they were to be blessing anything.
Normally it would be worth at least a thousand dollars to an uneducated customer. Thin and weak though it probably was. As the last bottle of alcohol in his shop it was now as priceless as anything could be. Popping the cork with his slightly claw-like nails he took a swig straight from the bottle and sighed in relief. It was undeniably weak, but it was alcohol none the less.
Finding his way back into the main room and behind his shop counter he clamored up on the stool as fast as he could given his rather substantial burden. It wasn't until he'd corked the bottle and lifted the now brimming full glass to his lips that his right ear twitched violently. Frowning he reached up and flicked the blasted thing. It wasn't about to hear more alcohol hiding someplace so he certainly couldn't care less what it had to say. It could keep its damn twitching to itself. When after a moment no further twitches had followed he relaxed. Satisfied that it knew its place he lifted the glass again only to cringe when his left ear decided to join the effort and nearly ripped itself from the side of his head. He slammed his glass down on the table with a growl and came to the disappointing conclusion that his ears weren't likely to leave him alone until he paid proper attention to them. Staring mournfully at his full glass of weak blessed wine he listened for a moment - entirely unsure as to what he was supposed to be listening for. Frustratingly he didn't hear a thing. Nothing even so loud as a pin dropping. Not a creak or a moan…
He couldn't hear nary a moan or a thump or a shreek, not one. Suddenly alert he sat up stiffly on his stool and turned his head towards the front of the shop. The solid wooden door was still firmly secured and the windows with their security bars were just as they should be. The zombies, on the other hand, were not. There'd been a growing crowd of them mingling outside since the whole mess had started. Pathetic things they had been, just staring in at him as he laughed at their predicament. Apparently they'd all decided to go for a walk. Not that he objected. It meant that when he finally made his move it would be all that much easier to escape. What he didn't like not knowing, because there were very few things the great Jerrizangalisander didn't know, was why they had gone.
Suspicious now he began to climb off his stool, pausing only to empty his glass. He'd undoubtedly need the fortification shortly. Not that wine blessed by monks was very fortifying of course but he'd take what he could get. Creeping over to the door, as much as a wrinkly gnome could creep after he'd been alive for longer than a millennium, he peeked out the window only to find a suspiciously empty street. It was this action that placed his head in inconvenient proximity to the door when his left ear twitched again. He was still grimacing when someone took a sledge hammer to the inside of his head and beat soundly against the interior.
"Of all the god forsaken..." stumbling away from the door he took a moment to try and remember just how much booze he'd swallowed in the last day. It took a fair bit to get a Gnome drunk of course but he usually managed it two or three times in any given century. He'd been so certain he wasn't there yet however and he refused to allow that he might have gone right past drunk and started on the hangover. The very notion was far too depressing. It was only when the sound echoed through the shop again that he realized that the source of the sound was entirely exterior to his cranium. Despite all logical thought to the contrary some inconsiderate ignoramus was outside and pounding away at his door. His ear twitched again as if in reprimand.
"Alrigh'." He mumbled. "Knockin' at me door. Knockin' like an oaf not poundin' like a zombie."
It was when the knocking sounded for the third and final time, shaking the door on its hinges that it occurred to him that it might be a good idea to answer before they savaged his refuge. "I hear ye! I hear ye! Just who are ye to be knockin' on me door in the middle of an apocalypse, ay?"
There was a brief silence and he felt momentarily optimistic that whatever demon was outside and had eaten all the zombies might decide to leave him in peace. Perhaps it was one of those mythical demons he'd always dreamt up in his imagination – the kind that was deathly frighted of all things gnomish but happy to beat the stuffing out of anything else. Of course he wasn't too hopeful. Gnomes usually knew better than to be optimistic seeing as how it was a truly poor survival trait. True to expectation it wasn't long before a very unusual voice for a demon yelled loudly in response. "Open the door!"
Jerry's ear didn't twitch in the slightest, which he took as an indication that the voice wasn't one he'd ever heard before. It didn't even sound like a demon really and if he didn't know better he'd think it was merely a woman. Of course it was possible it could be a vampire. Glancing out the window again he noted the brightly lit streets and quickly dismissed that particular notion. Several more knocks sounded and he began to worry about his shops integrity. Simple survival skills told him that anything that strong would not be denied. So it was that he grudgingly moved forward and turned the dead lock, opening the door a crack before moving backward as quick as his gnomish legs would take him.
The door was open and closed again before he'd even registered who his guest was. It took a moment for his eyes to climb up a pair of long and firm leather wrapped legs. On top of them he found a not unappealing and equally leather wrapped torso. Finally his eyes reached the face of what was obviously a slightly grungy young woman. Her flowing blond hair was stained and her face was covered in dust and blood but she looked no less appealing for the muck of travel. His mouth began to water. He took a moment to sniff with his nose to confirm it and even through the cotton he could recognize the smell of a mortal in the prime of her life. Jerry quickly adopted a friendly grin. Whatever had taken the zombies was apparently long gone, but this wee lass was more than welcome.
She was completely and wonderfully human. A little ridiculously well armed but thankfully it was nothing he couldn't deal with. He'd repressed his appetite for decades, this particular gnome never having had difficulty suppressing his urges for the sake of survival. Civilization was gone however and there was no longer any reason to deny himself.
She was perfect and he would have her.
Buffy stared down at the odd little man and tried to keep from smiling. Something about the grin on his face was irresistibly welcoming and she couldn't help but wonder how he'd maintained such an attitude with zombies pounding on his window. Then she caught a whiff of his odor and she didn't need to wonder anymore. At least this one was still alive.
"And what could possibly bring a young lady such as yerself to me door on the eve of an apocalypse? Heard of me store have ye? Perhaps yer lookin' for a curse or two now that there's no one to look down on ye if ye were to dabble in some of them wee black magics?" He laughed gleefully and then trotted over to a display case filled with the kind of musty old books that Giles always loved. "Books of wardin' to protect ye and hide ye from the most fiendish of foes. No refunds if they don't work on zombies of course – I can't be blamed if there was never a zombie around to test them on now can I?"
"Actually I was looking for something specific…." Buffy interrupted, though she did wonder if any of those books might come in handy at some point. Maybe there was something Willow and Tara might find useful. Zombie shielding sounded like a brilliant idea. Something to light zombies on fire when they walked past it sounded even better.
"Jerry lass. Jerry Sander at your service. Perhaps given the unusual nature of yer vestments of choice these yon tools might prove more to yer likin'!" Moving to a huge wooden cupboard Jerry swung the doors wide to reveal a shining array of weapons. Daggers and short swords of varying size and design covered the interior and she had to admit that several would go rather fetchingly with Slicer and Dicer. Shaking herself she stepped back. For all she knew they could all be cursed. Just because the little man was friendly didn't mean he was her friend. If anything he seemed a bit too friendly. She'd expected anyone she met in the middle of an apocalypse to be grouchy and frustrated if not outright violent. Sort of like Steven had been with the screaming and the panicking. "Perhaps somethin' to go with the fine blades mounted on yer back. Might I have a look at them? Merely a glance to satisfy me curiosity?"
"Actually, Jerry, as nice as the weapons are - and some of them are really, really nice - I'm actually looking for something specific." Not seeing the harm she pulled out one of the swords for him so he could get a better look. Simultaneously she handed him the sketch which he took but didn't even glance at, his eyes held captive by the shiny surface of what she was pretty sure was Dicer. She really needed to find a way to get them engraved. When his hand slowly reached out as if to touch the sword she quickly drew it away – something in his look making him seem not quite as human as she'd at first believed. He was watching the sword with what she could only describe as lust and it was giving her a thorough case of the wiggins. Slipping Dicer back in her sheath broke the spell and the mask fell away to once again reveal the friendly little shop keeper who had greeted her. He still hadn't looked at Gile's sketch.
"Now where did ye get yer hands on a fine piece like that I wonder." He stated like a question, his voice full of nothing more sinister than the appreciation of a dedicated collector. She wasn't sure she was buying it.
"Demonic dueling swords or something. Giles picked them up in London." She responded casually. It wasn't top secret information or anything and she was very curious to see how he responded. The incredulity that followed wasn't at all what she'd expected.
"Duelin' swords? Duelin' swords?" Jerry broke out in a full belly laugh that filled the shop. "From the KRevSZitch clans I suppose. Oh that's a good one."
"But if that's not what they…."
"Oh don't worry yerself none. It won't matter to ye at all. But still, I can tell ye for sure that no demon ever used those in a duel friendly or otherwise." When the little man finally stopped laughing he promptly trotted around the shop counter and disappeared. Blinking in confusion Buffy walked forward to peer over the top of it only for him to pop up on a stool right in front of her. Grabbing a bottle of almost transparent liquid he took a good long swig before offering it to her with that increasingly disturbing smile still plastered on his face. "Would ye like some?"
"Why do you have cotton stuffed up your nose?" She asked in response. It was the first time she'd been able to see his nostrils. He was just that short.
"What? Oh, these!" He Yanked the cotton out of his nose and Buffy quickly wished she'd never asked. The bits in view may have been white but the rest of the small cotton balls was now a vivid putrid green that made her feel slightly ill to observe. Given that her hair was probably soaked with zombie brains and the rest of her was covered in various other zombie fluids that really shouldn't have been possible. There was one thing that she was sure of. Nothing human that wasn't dying in a hospital had ever produced that color from their nostrils. She'd bet her life on it.
Of course that meant that Jerry wasn't nearly as human as he pretended to be. It would certainly explain his stature. She'd known that finding someone shorter than her was too good to be true. That right there should have tipped her off that he was probably demonic. Ok, he could have just been an oddly proportioned midget or so ridiculously old that he'd shrunk but neither of those possibilities would have explained how ridiculously cheerful he was. It all matched up with that weird look he'd had in his eyes when he watched her sword. Of course, demonic didn't mean violent, it just implied it ninety-nine times out of a hundred. She let one hand fall casually near the dagger strapped to her thigh as a matter of caution.
"Well!" He cried, interrupting her careful assessment of his demon factor. "Why on Earth would ye be wantin' one of these?"
"So you have it then?" Buffy brightened at the good news. This meant the trip wasn't a waste and that she hadn't left her family alone and unprotected for nothing. She stomped on the thought the moment it entered her head. Steven's life couldn't in any way be described as nothing. The Scooby gang wasn't helpless and if she hadn't traveled this way Steven would probably have died, scared and alone. He'd probably still be hiding in the closet.
"It? Ye make it sound like there's only one of them lass. They're trinkets for the tourists. An old arcane object of forgotten purpose. Legends and lore tell of its long lost powers of wardin' and protectin' against dark evils. So forth and so forth. They eat it up. I'd buy yon trinkets for ten dollars a piece and when a sucker wandered into me shop I could sell one for a couple of hundred. They'd go home and nail it to their wall all proud of themselves." He pointed over at a bin in the corner. "Check in there why don't ye lass. I don't usually keep them on display but I might have left some rattling around in yon box."
"Replicas of the original then." She sighed. "Hey, you didn't try to sell one to a stuffy British guy by any chance? Probably wearing tweed?"
"Couple of months ago, perhaps? Aye, I remember the prick. Called me a fraud and walked right out of me store!" Jerry complained with a voice full of indignation.
"Um. You were trying to con him, remember?" Buffy asked as she moved toward the bin.
"Doesn't make it polite to say so." Jerry replied and she couldn't hide a smile. She really hoped he wasn't evil. He was far too amusing to die. Her slaydar hadn't gone off once, which was odd if he was a demon, but she was still getting a dishonnest vibe from him that had nothing to do with ripping off ignorant shoppers. Looking into the box he'd pointed out she found it filled with beads and fake looking jewelry. It certainly wasn't the home of any ancient key knock-offs.
That was when she heard the click.
Only a moment later it was followed by a loud explosion of sound that echoed throughout the small building. Looking up from the spot where she now crouched behind the ward books Buffy observed a disturbingly large hole in the weapons cabinet. Encouragingly his aim was obviously poor. The hole wasn't any higher from the ground than her knee caps. On the downside he had something to aim with and obviously considered her an acceptable target. She wondered if the kick-back had knocked him off his stool.
"Ah blast it. Be a good lass and stand still. There's no reason to make this difficult. Never would have thought that a young lady like yerself could move so fast." Great. She'd just known it. He'd been way too good to be true. She'd never have that kind of luck – not in the middle of an apocalypse anyway. "Er not to be impolite but would ye kindly move out from behind the ward books? I could try shootin' ye through them I suppose but that would be a mighty grand waste of some very valuable merchandise."
"I knew it. I just knew you were evil. Too short, too friendly, and way too helpful. Not to mention the disgusting green stuff in your nose." Buffy vented loudly. Jerry made a sound of protest at the last but she ignored him. "I'm so going to have to slay you now. You're a leprechaun aren't you? I mean, green boogers, a drinking problem, and that funny way you talk. What else could you possibly be?"
"Oye! There's no reason to be gettin' personal. And a leprechaun? I've never been so insulted in me life. Nasty foul little creatures. I'll have ye know those monsters are all half me height and they'd never have stopped to talk to ye, just filled yer stomach with gold coins or ripped out yer entrails and strangled ye with them." He had to be the wimpiest demon she'd ever met. For that matter what self respecting monster would ever touch a gun? He should so be embarrassed. Maybe she'd report him to the monster's union. "Now if ye'd just step out so we can move this along. I'm not going to kill ye. Well, not right away. What kind of sick soul do ye think I am?"
"A short evil one." She replied with a pout. Hopefully he'd just keep on talking.
"Well I'm no necrophiliac. And me height's perfect. Yer just far, far too tall. Figure a couple of bullets in yer legs and I can have me way with ye" And to imagine - Buffy had thought zombies disgusting. They paled in comparison with the littlest pervert. "Haven't had sex in a decade ye know, trying to fit in with all this civilization forces one to forgo the finer pleasures in life. Of course I haven't eaten human flesh in even longer so ye'll of course be going in a stew later. We Gnomes prefer younger meat of course but from the looks of ye, ye'll still taste nice and sweet going down me gullet."
"Gross! Did you even have one of those keys or was that a lie too?" She needled. He'd keep talking. They always did.
"Gnomes never lie. I resent the very implication. If yer referrin' to those worthless curios then there might have been one in the box. I really wasn't sure but I know I have a couple someplace. My memory comes and goes when I've been imbibin'. Like right now I can't even remember what we were talkin' about thirty seconds ago… no, wait." While he paused to think Buffy reached down to the bottom edge of her chosen weapon and made sure she had a firm grip. "Maybe I do remember after all, damnation. Still sober. I knew the blasted wine wouldn't do the job. Never trust a monk to make good booze. About thirty seconds ago ye mentioned that ye'd have to... But wait - no - that surely can't be right."
Jerry paused for a moment before continuing and Buffy waited with him. She supposed it never hurt to let someone finish their last words. When Jerry continued it was in a voice lacking much of his earlier jovial bravado. "Ye mightn't, perchance, have mentioned somethin' concernin' slayin' a wee bit earlier? Lass? Ye certainly didn't mean to imply yer the chosen one I hope."
In a single motion Buffy lifted the entire set of warding shelves and threw them at Jerry's stool. She didn't bother rushing after them. Instead she stopped to congratulate herself on a wonderful toss, watching as the bottom of the shelves swept the disgusting little creature off of his stool and onto the floor. The crunching sound that resulted when the book case followed him down brought a wide grin to her face. Her first slay with a set of book shelf. It might even be the first slay ever with a set of book shelves. Completely Guinness worthy. It was entirely within the realm of possibilities.
The smile she'd been wearing vanished when she remembered what he'd wanted to do to her. Before meeting the creep she'd needed a shower. Now she needed sandpaper. Peeking over the counter to make sure he was dead she nodded to herself in satisfaction at the suspiciously green pool spreading out from where his head had been crushed by the solid oak furniture. In fact his blood was almost neon with its greenness while still somehow managing to look putrid. Who had he thought he was kidding with all the gnome talk? Shaking her head she secured the front door. Then she went to check out the rest of the shop.
With any luck there'd even be someplace to wash up. She just hoped the sinks weren't all placed at leprechaun height. If she looked hard enough maybe she'd even find his pot of gold.
Buffy slid the window open and quietly slipped inside pulling a rather full duffel bag she'd picked found at Jerry's behind her. Turning around she found Steven sitting on the floor where he'd been quietly playing solitaire before her arrival. This of course meant that he hadn't turned into a zombie while she was gone as she was pretty sure zombies had no use for cards. She'd gotten a cheap knock-off of the key, Steven was still safe, and her bike was sitting outside with a full tank of gas. She was really starting to get the hang of the whole apocalyptic living deal. She paused to wonder if she should write a book. Hints and tips on survival in the land of the dead – the slayer edition. It would definitely be a number one best seller. She smiled a welcome at Steven who had oddly wide eyes and had yet to say a word.
At a loss Buffy simply stood still - staring at him until he ran out of air. Then she quirked an eyebrow. "I don't look that bad do I? If you're going to scream every time I try to say hello tell me now. A person needs to be prepared for that kind of thing."
Steven frowned for a moment before asking in a hesitant voice. "Slayer?"
Buffy groaned. "Me Buffy, you Steven. Which part of this is hard to remember?"
"Oh." Steven shrugged and looked back at his game. From the looks of it he was losing. "Sorry. I thought you were a zombie."
"What!?" Buffy asked in shock. "If you're trying to insult me then congratulations. Job well done."
"You're covered in blood and you reek. What was I supposed to think?" Steven asked before perking up. "Hey! Does this mean you found what you were looking for? Can we go now? They haven't stopped pounding on the door once! Not the entire time you were gone!"
"I smell?" Buffy asked with a frown. Lifting her arm she took an experimental whiff of herself and found she couldn't smell anything at all.
"You smell horrible." He began. "Its even worse than this one time when we went on a school trip and Leroy tripped and he fell into this big bucket of..."
"Sure. Right. Anyway yes, I found the key. I actually found a dozen of them but I only took one." She replied to his earlier question. "I found a couple of other things too. Though I am a little concerned that I may have offed one of the seven dwarves. I'm thinking Sneezy. It would certainly explain the cotton. Or maybe Sleazy. Definitely Sleazy."
Xander would have laughed. Willow would have had an even better name for the little wretch. Steven just looked at her blankly. "Can we have supper now?"
For just a moment Buffy let herself wallow in some well earned depression. Then she pasted a smile on her face.
"Sure. Just let me go get cleaned up and see if I can salvage my pants before they decided to start start walking on their own." Wiping her boots on the carpet to remove the worst of the zombie remains she stopped before heading to the bathroom. "Make sure you pack Steve. Just some changes of clothes, whatever you can fit in a backpack."
Steven started putting the cards away and nodded with all the wisdom of his years. Then he frowned and looked back up. "How are we getting past all the zombies?"
"What zombies?" Was Buffy's blithe response before she disappeared into the bathroom.
Steven had to wait a very painful ten minutes before the shower finally turned on. When the water started running and he was sure she was busy Steven stopped his packing and ran to the living room window. Peeking outside his eyes opened wide. He turned his head to the left and then to the right and stared as hard as he could but it made no difference. Try as he might he couldn't find a single living zombie. Not a zombie up and walking around. Not even a single zombie dead and lying on the ground. The scary part was that he hadn't heard a thing when they vanished.
"Wow." He whispered. She really WAS a superhero.