A Special Guest Author Day with Andrea Speed
Night of the Dust Bunnies
Josh knew it was too good to last.
It had been a quiet night, even the werewolves had given it a rest, and he thought maybe he was going to have a nice, boring night for a change. It'd been so long since he'd had a customer, he'd already broken open a bag of Ruffles and a bottle of Snapple, and was eating as he read a gossip rag. Josh imagined he'd feel guiltier about reading who was having an affair or who had gained twenty five pounds if he had any idea who these people were. He knew about half, roughly. Like that one guy was in that show he never watched, and he'd seen that one lady's tits in a movie Doug liked, but sometimes he'd be treated to page after page of stories about people he didn't know from his rare human customers. Except these people in print dressed better, and looked more awake.And generally sober.
Josh was considering stealing an ice cream bar – so sue him, he didn't have time to eat before work – when he heard a distinct pop. It literally sounded just like the word, like a guy with a weird, inflectionless voice suddenly said “Pop” very succinctly into a bullhorn. But since he was alone in the store, that couldn't be the case. Right? “Hello?” he asked tentatively. What if there was a response? Oh hell, what if there wasn't? Suddenly feeling unnerved, he reached under the counter for the silver broomstick.
“You ever clean this goddamn place?” a tiny, high pitched voice said. It was only when he heard the hum, like an angry mechanical wasp, that he realized he was being visited by Gary the Reverse Tooth Fairy. “And color coordinate the shelves, you freaked out maniac! The colors clash so much it's like my eyeballs have thrown up.”
The tiny man came out of the chip aisle, hovering like a psychotic hallucination of a dragonfly, and while Josh found it difficult to make out his clothes (it looked like he had doll sized green pants on, and a pale shirt), it looked like he was indeed holding his tiny, voice amplifying bullhorn. “What the hell do you want?” Josh asked, closing the paper. He'd met the foul mouthed creature just the once, but he really didn't like him.
“Don't get your panties in a bunch, dickdip,” Gary said, continuing to hover at more or less face level. Sadly, he was more than a broomstick away, so Josh couldn't smack him. “I'm just lookin' for the dust bunnies. You seen 'em?”
This seemed more surreal and pointless than usual, and since Gary seemed to be a professional dick, that was really saying something. “Yeah, I get it, the store isn't clean enough for you. You'd be amazed by how much I don't care about your opinion.”
“No, fuckhole, I'm not talking about your lack of hygiene. I'm talkin' about the dust bunnies. What, Colin never told you about them?”
Josh crossed his arms over his chest, so Gary didn't get the impression he was buying a single thing he said. “Are you really so bored turning coins to teeth that you have to come to my dimension and bore me?”
“Ya think I wanna be here, in this shitpile you call a store? Dungbrain, these little fuckers are dangerous.”
“Don't give me that look. I got better things to do than hang out with you, meat monkey.”
Josh didn't even know what that insult meant. Then again, Gary was hard to understand, in more ways than one. “Let me get this straight. You're looking for clumps of lint?”
“What, you got Jello for brains? Dust bunnies are these vicious little shits that were the result of some weird gene splicing experiment. They'll eat anything, even those manure scrapings you call food.”
“Hey!” He grabbed the bag of Ruffles and shoved them under the counter. “So if these things are real, what do they look like?”
“What d'ya mean what do they look like? What do you think they look like, genius? They're fuckin' dust bunnies! They look like clumps of hair, and they're small. They like hidin' under stuff.”
“Now I know you're just screwing with me.”
“Don't flatter yourself, dicklard. I bet they'd love a filthy place like this. All the free eats they could want, and no risk of bein' cleaned at any point.” Gary turned and flew off down the aisle.
“Are you applying as a custodian? 'Cause I could totally give you a job application.” Since Gary didn't respond, Josh went after him, just to make sure the flying rat wasn't doing something disgusting to the candy bars.
The hum of Gary's wings seemed to take funny bounces, so following the sound was difficult, and the little bastard was zig zagging all around the store, faster than an angry bee. Eventually Josh caught sight of him in the hangover aisle (it had aspirin and a variety of over the counter drugs, most of which were devoted to hangover symptoms) , where he was gliding near the floor. “There you are, you little bastard,” he squeaked, and for a second he thought Gary was talking to him. But then this little black piece of dust – like a teeny tiny tumbleweed – suddenly blew across the floor.
Josh jumped back in shock and maybe let out a noise that wasn't very dignified, but it wasn't a shriek. The way it moved, he thought maybe it was a spider, except they weren't shaped that way, and he saw no hint of legs at all. Just a ... dust bunny, rolling way too fast.
Gary glared at him – or at least Josh thought he was glaring at him. His eyes were so small it was hard to tell. “Did you just shriek like a little girl?”
“No! I just ... it was startling.So these things do exist?”
Gary made a tiny noise that could have been a tsk, but it also could have been a sneeze or a fart. “Jesus, you really think I ain't got nothin' better to do than tease the low rent counter gibbon? Dude, some of us gotta work for a living.”
“Stop comparing me to a monkey, you flying venereal disease,” Josh snapped, going back to retrieve the regular broom.
Josh started sweeping around the shelves and near the counter, anywhere where he could find a small recess, and chased out a couple of dust bunnies that made a break for it, but didn't get far before Gary zapped them with this tiny gun he had. Or at least Josh thought it was a gun. It was kind of hard to tell, and it didn't make a noise, but after Gary used it, the dust bunnies disappeared, and there was this nasty burnt hair smell.
Josh swept the whole store, even the top of the shelves, and while Gary was satisfied they got all the dust bunnies they could, Josh had this skeevy, skin crawling feeling, and wanted to douse the whole store in bleach. Just the thought of living dust bunnies set off his creepy crawly and OCD responses.
Gary disappeared – with another pop – as abruptly as he'd shown up, and Josh was wondering if he could stand the bleach smell for the couple hours he had left on his shift. Then a customer came in, and Josh was forced to scramble back to the counter and dump the take a penny tray, which was now full of teeth. (Damn Gary.)
“Did you have an electrical fire in here?”
Josh looked at the customer, and was surprised to see that he looked human (he could have been a vampire, but he wasn't feeling that strange pull that he usually felt with vamps). Also, he was fairly hot, despite some ghostly scars on his face, and hair color that was a weird crimson-brown. His green eyes were really riveting, though, and gave Josh the creepy feeling he was seeing right through him. “Um, yeah, sorry. It's out now, though.”
“I'd hope so,otherwise why are you still open,” he said, and turned back towards the cold case. He got a bottle of tea and came back to the register, and Josh was doing his best not to stare at the guy, who was really older than he went for – though he was dating a three hundred year old vampire, and if that wasn't out of his age range, who was? - but undeniably attractive. Or something. It wasn't exactly an insistent vampire pull, but it was a pull all the same. It looked like he was wearing a wedding ring, but since when did that matter?
He paid cash, and as Josh was getting his change, he realized the guy was sniffing, just glancing around the store and smelling the air. He looked puzzled by it too. So not human? What was he then? Josh thought he saw a tattoo on the underside of his wrist, but he couldn't tell what it was.
The guy left, still looking confused by the store, and the door had barely shut before it opened again, only this time it was Colin coming through the door, a little early tonight. But he was looking out at the parking lot, troubled. “That guy smells like a lion,” Colin said.
Josh had no idea what to say to that, beyond the fact that he hadn't picked up anything. Then again, all he could smell was that disgusting burnt hair stink, that seemed to have gotten stuck in his nose. “Are there werelions?”
Colin shook his head and shrugged at the same time. “I don't think so, but then again, werepandas exist, and I didn't know that either.” He then paused and winced as he got a good sniff of the store. “Shit. Was there an electrical fire?”
“Gary showed up, and we hunted dust bunnies,” Josh told him. At Colin's surprised look, he said, “Flip the closed sign, grab a beer, and I'll explain it to you.”
At least he could end the night with a few quiet moments with his boyfriend. Maybe it wasn't so bad after all.
You can find the Josh of the Damned series at Riptide Publishing