Kitty Richardson took a deep breath and stared at the phone in her hand.
"What's wrong?" Bernice asked.
Reeve Stockwell and Miles Longworth also stared, their eyes far less glazed than five minutes prior. It seemed Kitty's anxiety had pierced through their ongoing haze.
"What is it, Kitty?" Stockwell said, sounding almost like Stockwell.
"There are zombies in the store," Kitty whispered, and Penelope stood so quickly, she knocked almost everything off Stockwell's desk, including a corner of a dried-up fritter that looked like an antiquity.
"Have we confirmed this?" Miles Longworth said, sounding almost sober.
"I've gotten two calls already," Kitty said softly.
"Credible?" Stockwell asked, standing from his chair, and finding himself in a puddle of Dorito crumbs, which also stuck to his slacks like pesky cat hair. His gaze found the corner of the fritter on the floor, and he kicked it. It slid like a hockey puck and whacked the door. Everyone turned.
"Are they outside the door?" Bernice asked, looking pale.
"It was this," Kitty replied, holding up the hunk of dried pastry. "Get rid of it," she said, handing the fritter to Stockwell, who dropped it in the trash. It fell with a thunk.
"Getting back to the zombies," Stockwell said. "Are these claims credible."
"Yes. And, it gets worse," Kitty whispered.
"How much worse could it get?" Miles Longworth asked, clutching his stomach like a man who'd just consumed twenty pounds of junk food.
"Mick Daniels is also here," Kitty said in a groan.
"Maybe the zombies will get him," Bernice said, her tone light, considering the circumstances.
"That's mean," Penelope said.
"It would solve the immediate problem," Bernice whined in her own defense.
"It's still mean," Penelope retorted.
"Girls, please," Stockwell said. The effects of the brownies seemed to have worn off considerably. Kitty's phone rang again.
She answered on the first ring.
"It's Alejandro," Kitty whispered. Kitty listened for only a minute and hung up. "Alejandro and Magic have isolated Daniels in the break room. They're keeping him busy with coffee and donuts. He's got some guy with him that Alejandro called a 'fixer'-"
"Larry Dale," Miles Longworth piped in.
"He tends to show up in problem stores," Stockwell said.
"Now that's mean," Bernice said through a sigh.
"Well, we are a problem store," Stockwell said. "I've been in retail since I could walk, and even I've never seen such a plethora of knuckleheads assembled under one roof."
"That's mean," Bernice grumbled.
"In case we've forgotten," Kitty interrupted, "we are in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.
"Let's look," Stockwell said.
"I'm not going out there," Penelope said, squeezing into the corner and hiding behind Bernice.
"Neither am I," Kitty said.
"We don't have to," Stockwell said. "We can have Sonny watch the cameras."
"He went home. Something about something being haunted, or so the rumor mill suggests," Kitty explained.
"We can access his computer from here," Miles Longworth said.
"We can?" Stockwell said in amazement.
"Don't you read your emails?" Miles Longworth asked.
"Of course, although the last one you sent me was some honey badger thing," Stockwell said, looking at Miles Longworth with disgust.
"Was that before or after the EHarmony email with that weird woman who loves cats?" Penelope asked.
"Kitty has an EHarmony video?" Stockwell said through a chuckle.
"Nice," Kitty whispered, rolling her eyes. "It wasn't me."
"The honey badger, he don't give a shit," Bernice mumbled, and Longworth burst out laughing.
"People, stop," Stockwell nearly shouted. "The only email I care about right now is the one that tells us how to access cameras remotely."
"It was from Slick. Evidently, he thinks something hokey is going on in the store, so he set all the managers up with the option to see cameras," Miles Longworth said, staring at Stockwell.
"Seriously?" Kitty asked, looking pale. "How does Slick know?"
"Know what?" Bernice asked.
"Nothing," Kitty mumbled.
"Know what?" Penelope repeated.
"Girls, put a cork in it!" Stockwell said, shouting this time. "Shit," Stockwell whispered. "Okay, when did this email come?"
"This morning," Miles Longworth explained. "Don't know what you were doing that you didn't see it."
"I was having some of Ada's brownies............" Stockwell said, pausing for a long moment. "In fact, that is about the last thing I remember, and could these brownies have anything to do with the hundreds of pieces of junk food scattered around my office? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED IN HERE?" Stockwell roared, as if he'd just realized the condition of his surroundings.
"I'll explain later," Kitty whispered.
"Now works for me, Stella Catherine Richardson," Stockwell said, glaring at Kitty. Everyone stared at Kitty. No one had ever used her full name. This was serious.
"I will explain later. It was a loving gesture gone terribly wrong," Kitty said defensively.
"I'll say," Stockwell said. "I feel like I've been on a three-day bender.
"It was really only like three hours," Bernice said, and something crashed outside. "THAT WAS NOT A FRITTER. THE ZOMBIES ARE HERE!" Bernice screamed.
"Let me at the computer," Miles demanded, as everyone crowded into the corner farthest from the door. Stockwell shielded the women, keeping his eyes directed at his monitor. "Mother of God," Miles Longworth said through a moan. "There are zombies. They're everywhere."
Everyone looked at the computer screen, and paled in unison.
"Holy shit," Stockwell said.
"What are they doing?" Kitty asked, grabbing Stockwell's arm.
"They're looking at electrical parts," Stockwell replied, squinting at the screen.
"That's not how it's supposed to go," Bernice said. "They're supposed to eat brains."
"Seems to be one leading the pack," Stockwell said. "He's holding something in his hand."
"Is it a body part?" Penelope asked, covering her eyes.
"Honestly...," Miles Longworth commented, "it looks like a Catalytic Converter.
"Seriously?" Kitty quipped.
"Yeah," Longworth replied. "Holy crap, Chewie's approaching them. He's got a screwdriver, and he looks scared to death.
"Oh, jeez. I like him," Kitty whined. "The Lord is my Shepherd......," she prayed, as everyone remained riveted to the monitor.
"He's talking to them," Bernice said. "Chewie is talking to the zombies."
"Well, he closed last night and opened this morning. He looks like the walking dead. Maybe they don't know he's still alive," Stockwell remarked.
"We all look like that," Kitty said.
"Chewie's laughing. He's calling someone," Penelope said. The group watched as Chewie raised his phone to his ear. Kitty's phone rang.
"Chewie?" Kitty nearly shouted into the handset. The call lasted less than thirty seconds. No one spoke. "It's not the zombie apocalypse. They're going to some convention, and the Zombiemobile broke down half a mile up the road."
Everyone burst out laughing.
"Let's get out of here," Stockwell said, opening the door. "Penelope, could you sweep up this mess and empty the trash? Now that the zombie threat is over, we need to deal with Daniels. If you're praying folks, you might want to pray we still have a store when the day's over."
"Vacation!" Bernice quipped, clapping her hands.
"That was not supposed to be met with enthusiasm, Bernice," Stockwell chastised.
"Sorry," Bernice mumbled.
Everyone filed out of the office.
"Kitty, call Alejandro back. Our best plan of attack is to separate Daniels and this 'fixer'. We'll head back to deal with Daniels. You take the 'fixer' and walk the store. Wilton Scott is a big zombie fan. Send him over to Electrical and see if he can help round them up and get them out of here."
"Will do, boss," Kitty said, looking at Stockwell. "Um......"
"Is there something else, Kitty?" Stockwell asked, throwing her a glance that clearly said the brownie issue was NOT resolved.
"And it would be what?" Stockwell asked.
"You guys need to go wash your hands and your faces. You're covered with Doritos."
"I may kill you today," Stockwell whispered, wiping the back of his hand across his face.
"I am aware of that, sir," Kitty mumbled.
"Get your affairs in order," Stockwell quipped before walking away.
Kitty called Alejandro. The 'fixer' was on his way to Customer Service. The store was relatively calm, given the presence of numerous zombies. A crowd had gathered near Electrical, but no one was armed with zombie-killing paraphernalia. This was a good sign. Evidently, the only people who thought the zombies were actually real were Chewie, Wilton Scott, and the idiots who'd just emerged from Stockwell's office.
Kitty watched as Larry Dale walked up the aisle toward her. He walked with the air of a confident man in a Kmart suit.
"Good day," Larry Dale said, as he approached Kitty.
"Hello," Kitty said, feeling herself blush.
"How are we today?" Larry Dale asked.
"We're okay. The zombies freaked everyone out," Kitty said.
"I saw that. I think they're delightful," Larry Dale remarked. "Certainly shakes things up a bit. I'll bet this is one of the most interesting days you've had in a while."
"You don't know us," Kitty mumbled.
"I'd like to," Larry Dale said with a smile.
"I'd like to know you, too," Kitty said without thinking.
"The best business relationships begin that way," Larry Dale replied.
That wasn't exactly what Kitty had in mind, but she played along. "How well do you know Mr. Daniels?" she asked.
"We slept together last night," Larry Dale said, and Kitty felt the air leave her balloon.
Larry Dale blushed. "That isn't exactly what I meant. We ended up in this seedy motel in the middle of nowhere, in a place straight out of a Wes Craven movie. Bad room, smelly carpet, dead rodents in the bathroom and one bed."
"Yuck," Kitty commented, and Larry Dale laughed.
"We got through it," Dale replied.
"I'm glad," Kitty said.
Suddenly there was a commotion in aisle 1. Kitty and Larry Dale headed off in the direction of the yelling, splatting, and chaos.
Pumpkins were falling from the sky.
In reality, pumpkins were falling from top stock.
The gourds continued to fall.
Tool Towners had gathered, mouths agape, saying nothing.
Mick Daniels' face was beet red.
Stockwell stood stiller than a cadaver.
Longworth was trying not to laugh.
Miles Longworth, Reeve Stockwell, and Mick Daniels stood in a pile of muck. Their clothes were covered in pumpkin.
At least it covered the Dorito stains, Kitty thought, seeking the silver lining as only Kitty could.
"Gentlemen, we need to talk," Mick Daniels said, looking like he'd just participated in a pumpkin pie bake-off.
"Yes, sir," Stockwell said.
"Is there anything anyone would like to add to this situation?" Mick Daniels asked.
"I have something," a voice said from the back of the crowd.
Mags Davidson weaved her way through the Tool Towners, and emerged from the pack.
"Yes, Ms. Davidson?" Mick Daniels said softly.
"JJ Patricks has been murdered, and I think she's buried out back," Mags said through a sob.
Daniels went pale.
Larry Dale took a notepad from his pocket, and stepped forward like a detective.
The Tool Towners fell silent with three exceptions.
"Shit," Kitty, Longworth, and Stockwell muttered in unison.