Sumerian zombies were in the mall again.
Illya wondered who'd pissed off Ishtar today.
She pulled the garment hook off the wall.
A moldering corpse struggled in the embrace of fuchsia wrap skirts on the seventy-five percent off rack. Illya sympathized, but that didn't mean he could try to devour the flesh of the customers currently slipping around him in search of deals in their size.
Illya wished them luck. There was a reason those clothes were seventy-five percent off. She pulled the corpse free of fuchsia. Poor thing immediately went for a gurgling baby in a "Finding Nemo" themed stroller.
Illya wondered why parents tempted fates that way and gently pushed the zombie out the front of the store and into the mall proper. There was a trick to herding zombies. Shove too hard and they fell over, and practically any force at all was too hard.
The corpse moaned, "Mahoa." Illya liked to think this meant brains in Sumerian, which Illya kept thinking she should take an adult education course in, but hadn't quite got around to it.
She closed the door. The zombie smeared its dried out face against the glass wall, streaking it with red mud and flakes of skin.
Frieda abandoned the cash register and tapped on the glass.
Illya said, "Don't!" but it was too late. The creature pounded on the glass with its frail arms. Just an envelope of skin over brittle bones. Illya glared at Frieda. "You know that just riles them up" Frieda shrugged, which was the problem with Frieda. She was a short timer. Whole lotta tomorrows, not alota right now.
A soft voice moused into Illya's ear. "Excuse me." Illya turned to look up and up at a Junoesque woman, who smiled shyly. "Could you let me into one of the changing rooms?" The sweater the woman was holding was the right color for her autumn complexion, but all wrong in style. The princess cut would make the poor woman's queenly lines look like a Chaldean lump worm from the Nether pits.
Illya wiped the hook on the sponge by the door - it paid to be prepared - and smiled back. She said, "Certainly," paused should she, yes, she should, "and if you're looking for a sweater in that color, you might want to try one of these." She pointed with the newly cleaned hook at some empire line sweaters with green velvet trim hanging high up and splendid on the wall.
The autumn woman shrugged that she hated actually talking to people, it had taken a lot of nerve to ask to be let into the changing room, and she really wanted to say no to this pushy salesperson, but couldn't bring herself to be impolite.
Illya hated to do it, but the princess sweater would be a crime against nature and fashion. The zombie flailing weakly against the glass seemed to agree. Although Illya knew in her heart of hearts that he really just wanted to eat the flesh of the living and didn't care how this autumn woman felt, with her wide beautiful brown eyes, like Cow eyed Juno herself, and silky smooth coffee skin that would make Isis all over weep with envy.
Illya hooked a sweater off the wall and pressed it on the poor defenseless autumn woman, determined that this poor woman see herself for the beautiful woman that she was. Illya swept her back into the depths of the shop and unlocked a changing room door with a mite of a jiggle and a jerk, because it always did stick.
A zombie, 3rd Dynasty by his armor, stumbled out of the changing room. The autumn woman jumped back with a little shriek. Illya pinned him against the wall with her hook and enunciated up to the front. "Frieda, why didn't you tell me you'd trapped a zombie in one of the changing room?"
"I trapped a zombie in one of the changing room," yelled Frieda. Even from here, Illya could see her eye roll, as if that was any sorta alright behavior. Well, Frieda was only sixteen. Half of anyone was a sullen pimple on society at that age. Illya'd worked retail for over thirty-years herself, but she hadn't forgotten what it had felt like to be a sullen pimple. People who went on and on about the glory years of pimpledom just made her shake her permed head, nether hells no.
But that didn't help the poor woman clutching her sweaters next to her. Illya said, "I'm so sorry about this. We don't normally get zombies on Tuesday."
The woman mumbled, "It's not your fault." She peered at the remnants of a sweater dress and four blouses in the changing room. "I... I," She seemed to gather her courage, "I heard on the radio that Ishtar broke up Coyote again." Her mumble seemed to indicate that this was somehow her fault, and she should have known better than to dare shop when there were gods with broken hearts.
Frieda practically levitated over to the back. "Yeah, I heard on 'Gobsmacked Gods' that she caught him with three pigs." Frieda licked her lips. "They were enflagrante delectio. That means they were doing it." Frieda seemed to think that every newspaper in the City didn't flash flagrante delecto in every other headline. For some reason, Latin was supposed to make sex classier. Didn't seem to work on the Romans though.
The autumn woman cringed back from Frieda, even though she had a good foot on Frieda.
Frieda jiggled in her shoes doing what she loved best. She said, "They said that Ishtar went to her father, Sky-Father-Anu, to ask him to let her unleash the Bull of Heaven, or she'd rip the doors off the gates of the underworld and let loose the dead to feast on the flesh of the living." Frieda rolled her eyes. "As if that was much of a threat. Anyway, I always did think she and Coyote were totally wrong for each other. Good for a fling, but really, a Trickster can't change his spots."
"Mmm... yeah. Tricksters," said the woman. Her slumping shoulders were clearly horrified that she'd started this conversation.
Illya opened the other changing room, which thankfully contained only a green paisley that would only look good on a certain type of waif, but people did like to try. "Here you go."
The woman scuttled into the changing room. Illya wondered if the woman was a Cancer, and adjusted a charm on the door that helped improve posture. Bad posture was half most womens' problems.
Illya slid the hook through the zombie's leather armor, around his collar bone, and guided him towards the door. He was a wriggly one, but like most dead people, not a lot of motor skills, and about as strong as a kitten. Illya got to the door and then ended up standing there like a fool. She cleared her throat.
Frieda, who'd headed back to the front, only to resume tapping on the glass, said, "What!"
Illya gestured with her head towards the door. Frieda kept staring at her with that sullen pimple on society stare. Illya sighed. "Could you open the door? I don't want to let the other one back in."
Frieda sighed as if Illya was asking her to clean the Augean stables, and hadn't that caused a stir with the environmentalist when Hercules flushed seven metric tons of raw sewage into the Alpheus river. But Illya was resolute. Handling two zombies and the door was just too much. She raised her eyebrows and Frieda sighed again.
Frieda opened the door and Illya pushed the zombie out into the mall.
Now there were two zombies plastered against the glass front wall. Illya was going to have to stock up on cleanser.
Illya got back to work, while Frieda worked on irating the zombies.
Illya re-hung the hook and tidied up the discount racks, which the customers and the zombie had gotten into a mite of a tangle.
Illya saw the autumn woman creep forward out of the corner of her eye. The autumn woman carefully placed the empire waist sweater on the counter. The princess was happily nowhere to be seen.
Illya said, "I knew it would look good on you." She smiled at the autumn woman, who ducked her eyes and carefully pushed Mistress Visa forward. Illya glanced at her ID, which declared that the autumn woman, otherwise known as Gloria Mickleford, was 5'11, 38 years old and shaving thirty pounds off her driver's license, poor woman. Illya hoped the sweater made Gloria feel as beautiful as she was, and was pleased to see Gloria stand up a little straighter as Illya swiped the card and transferred ownership of the empire sweater with the green velvet trim through the swoop of a signature on a little bit of paper. Names had power. Everyone knew that, and Gloria should be glorious. Illya hoped one day Gloria would own every pound of pressure on the earth and stand tall.
Illya increased her smile and said, "Here let me help you." Illya reclaimed the hook, opened the door for Gloria, and held back the zombies. Glorious autumn Gloria stepped out into the mall, already looking more of a queen and ruler of all she surveyed.
Illya felt a little glow when she saw Gloria step over a crawling legless zombie and stand in front of the shoe store cross the way. A color perfect match half boot in sued tempted Gloria from the window. Gloria went in.
Illya wished her luck and went back to tidying the store. There were sweaters to fold and pants to crease
Illya helping an over-eye shadowed girl find a dress for her date on Friday night. It might not result in quite what she wanted, but would certainly ensure the respect that she deserved. Illya organizing a new shipment in circle skirts, which Illya thought were quite flattering and bound to make a woman happy when she twirled.
Then it was time for her lunch break.
If she'd known the dead were going to rise today, Illya'd of brought a bag lunch. Unfortunately, she'd been focused on her free coconut-lime-chicken-taco salad from the Casa Del Taco in the food court, and such a craving would not be denied. Not for the rise of the living dead. Not for fires in the hills or end of the world snow. Not for nothing.
Illya got her pretty little beaded purse of holding from her locker in the back. Clocked out with a solid thump. Put on her blue hat with a blue feather, because there wasn't an outfit ever that didn't look a mite better with a perky hat.
Frieda said, "You know you can't take the hook. It belongs to the store."
Illya smiled. "Hadn't planned on it." She pulled her policeman's baton out of her pretty little purse of holding. They were both blue to match her dress and hat. She swished the baton in the air. "See you after lunch." Illya ducked out the door and walked briskly through the zombies.
The mall was in a sad state of disrepair. There was a Sumerian gnawing on the bronze haunch of a centaur statue in the fountain. She was mewling sadly as she gummed the metal. Illya didn't know why she always went for the Centaur, but she always did. Always left bits of herself in the fountain, poor dear.
She did the avoid the reaching zombie dance. Wouldn't do to let them pile up on her. She loved this dress and its twirly circle skirt.
Bout half to the escalator, she stopped at the comfy massage chairs, where there was an elderly fella, a regular mid-day walker from the rest-home up the way, sitting in a leather chair for a snooze. There were about six zombies nuzzling him, but the old fella didn't so much as break a snore. She pushed the zombies back and shook the old fella by the shoulder. "Sir, Sir!" She shook him some more.
He blinked at her. "Wha-aha?"
Illya battoned back a zombie reaching for her purse arm. She said, "You don't want to be sleeping here right now. The dead have risen from the abyss."
The old fella, not bad looking and quite trim, if clearly a sound sleeper, looked around. He laughed, "My Mabel always did say I could sleep through Gabriel's horn. Thank you, my dear." He bowed like a gentleman, and she was pleased to see he was prepared with his own metal wand hanging off a key chain hooked to his sweat pants. He said, "Here now, since you've done me such a good turn, let me escort you to your destination."
"Oh, I'm on my lunch break. I'm just heading upstairs to the food court for a salad." Illya wasn't about to go into why this was the best salad in the whole world and could well be the real reason the Greek's invaded Troy. If the salad had come from Troy that is. Then Illya was forced to get a little rough with a particularly frisky zombie. They should get moving soon. There were more zombies shuffling in from the automatic open and close front doors, which some fool had left on.
The old fella smiled like that wasn't so much important and he walked her to the escalator, and then said his good byes, not wishing to press his attentions and all that, but perhaps he'd see her around.
Illya twirled a little and went up the escalator, which some other fool had left on. Though, come to think of it, probably was the same fool. Standard mall security procedures were to turn off the escalators when the dead rose since the poor things simply couldn't handle stairs.
Illya eyed a couple of sullen pimpled teens standing by the top of the escalators. They were armed with baseball bats and giggling. Couple of tricksters the day they were born if she knew the type and she should. She'd been married to one once. Back when the world was young and dinosaurs ruled the earth and made a good deal better cappuccino than was currently available, or at least that's what sullen pimples thought. Well, not the part about the cappuccino.
One of them made as if to swing his bat at her, but she tilted her baton over one shoulder, and looked him in the eye to indicate that if they wanted to claim that they'd mistaken this jaunty blue hatted woman for a Sumerian zombie, they were gravely mistaken to do so.
They backed off with some very boring curses that made her long to give them a slice of soap and a dictionary, but she wasn't their mama.
She walked by gawkers leaning over the railing throwing gum and paper airplanes down at the walking dead. Solid chain of them, but if that's how they wanted to spend their time, fine with her. Best salad in the world was waiting for her. Practically calling her name.
Illya made her way to the food court, which was empty except for several packs and prides of assorted teenagers in various states of preppy, goth and sullen.
One pack was kicking around a zombie head. She wasn't their mama to teach them manners, so she didn't go over and tell them to cut it out.
Instead, she went to the counter for the Casa Del Taco. She said, speaking slowly, "Neihhou, Chan Siu Ming. And how you are you this fine day?"
Chan Siu Ming sparkled a smile at her. "Néih hóu, Ms. Illya. Not bad. Zombies always pull a good after school crowd. Lotsa nachos." He grinned and patted his liquid cholesterol fake cheese machine, currently gleaming in pride of place. But fake cheese was not the salad that could launch a thousand chips. He said, "How are you doing?"
Illya was about to answer, when there was a wolf whistle behind her.
Chan muttered something in Cantonese, which had not been covered in the adult education classes she'd taken last summer.
Illya turned just in time to see a naked red cap streak down the walk way.
"Nice cap," she said.
"Nice ass," said Chan.
"Chan!" Illya rounded her eyes at Chan.
Chan shrugged. "If he's flashing, I'm looking."
Illya shrugged that this made some sense. Chan said, "Lemme get your lime and coconut, mix it all up." He bustled back to whisper into the gleaming silver space that fed into the kitchen. In seconds, a green and white cardboard box perfectly placed in the center of a red tray appeared.
Illya slid forward a yellow Casa Del Taco card, stamped and ready for her free meal.
Chan collected her card. Illya collected her salad with a happy smile.
She sat at a table away from the packs and prides and gratefully sank into a hard plastic chair. After hours on her feet, it was good to sit, no matter how comfortable her shoes. She wiped her hands with a hand-wipe guaranteed to kill 99% of all bacteria and prevent vampirism, zombieism, wolfarism, and several other isms. She opened the lid to her salad and gazed at the gleaming lettuce, at the beautiful coconut and lime and chicken. Then she speared a leaf and ate. Sheer crispy lime-coconut-chicken-taco delight.
She pulled her book, "The Passion of Flowers" by Blodeuwedd out of her purse of holding. Ate and read and it was good. Perfect really.
She was just getting to the sexy part where the bumble bee tenderly brushed her soft feet across a honeysuckle's sticky stamen, when a zombie head rolled against her feet.
"Hey Lady!" said a sullen pimple boy, separating from his pack.
Illya looked down at the battered zombie head, currently gnawing at her shoe. Illya looked at her watch. It was about time to go back anyway. She marked her place in her book, reached under the table and carefully picked up the head. Poor thing's forehead was dented on one side.
She eyed the pack sourly. She put the head in her purse of holding, which, although quite small and delicate, could contain a small army. Not that she'd be able to carry a small army, but they would fit and yet remain stylishly covered in blue beads that changed color depending on how you held the purse.
The sullen pimple boy said, "Hey, that's our head."
Illya picked up her baton and walked away from him, tray held high. She returned the tray to the smiling Chan. The pack called curses after her that indicated that their mama's shoulda used more soap and a dictionary when raising them.
She passed a pride of Goths, their jackets decorated in all manner of dictionary words, who almost sort of smiled approval at her, so all hope was not lost for the world. Except, she supposed for the Goths.
Illya went down the escalator. At the bottom, there was a zombie trying to crawl up its downward roll. Poor thing moaned and slipped as the metal kept shoving her back.
Illya sighed. She did the zombie shuffle dance over the living dead. She smartly pushed back the hopeful zombies clustered around the bottom of the escalator and then flipped the hidden escalator switch to off. Leastwise that way they'd stop getting slapped in the face.
There were more dead now. It was harder to shove her way through all those reaching arms and bodies. Like pushing through a forest of fragile paper dragons.
There were hardly any shoppers left. Just packs and prides of teenagers waving machetes and baseball bats. Illya tried to ignore the mewling of the zombies. Nothing much she could do, except hope help came soon.
She went back into the store. She put away her purse and hat, and clocked back in. Got back to work. She folded. She tidied. She organized.
Frieda restlessly bounced around the store. Tapped the window. Got the zombies all riled up and moaning against the glass.
Frieda sighed. When Illya kept refolding shirts, Frieda sighed again. She tapped on the window some more. Then she said, "It's dead here. We should close up."
Illya said, "If you want to clock out, go ahead." She could do without the sighs.
Illya stared at Illya, seeming to want something. Illya didn't give it, whatever it was. Frieda went into the back. There was a sharp sound of the time card being punched. Frieda came back out, artful pink machete clutched in her pink nailed hand. Frieda said, defensively as if Illya was judging her, "It's just in case I'm attacked."
Illya said, "Hmmm."
Frieda harrumphed. "You're not the boss of me." She opened the door a crack and called out to a passing pride, "Hey, Candice, wait up." Frieda dashed out the door, scattering zombies in her path.
Illya sighed. She went to get some gloves and detergent to clean out the changing room.
There weren't many more customers. A desperate woman looking for a Bitch Goddess interview suit. Illya steered her away from a red three piece, totally wrong for her complexion, and into a nice steel magnolia outfit that brought out the metal in her eyes and spine.
A repeat customer shoved her way through the undead hordes. It was her mother-in-law's birthday. Today. This was a tricky one as Illya had never met said mother-in-law. But a nice necklace was selected to at least their satisfaction, and now the woman had a death defying story to tell, as she shoved her way out, plastic bag in hand.
Three more zombies got in over the afternoon. Illya sighed, rounded them up, and put them into a changing room. The clock ticked round and somewhere outside the sun set. Didn't matter so much in the store, where the florescent lights stayed bright and the piped music played on. Then it was time to lock up.
Illya closed out the cash register. Not a great day, but not as bad as some. There were far worse things that could wander the mall. She was just about to leave a note for Margie on the morning shift, when someone knocked on the front glass door.
Gilgamesh stood in the door. He held a fishing pole with a brain on the end and wore a t-shirt that said, "Gilgamesh and his Dead Friend Enkidu! Immortality is our business!" With some sorta rotting smiley face.
While she looked at his shirt, Gilgamesh gave her the elevator eye once over and stroked his oiled beard. He perved, "Got any customers or are you all alone in here?" and winked at her.
Enkidu moaned and bopped his friend on the head, perhaps to indicate that they couldn't afford yet another sexual harassment suit and certainly not any restraining orders if they were going to keep rounding up the lost dead.
Illya looked at dead Enkidu's shirt. Seemed like immortality was also his business. She said, "Thought you didn't get paid for doing this."
Enkidu moaned and Gilgamesh chuckled, which Illya took to mean that Gilgamesh had made the shirts in his garage as his idea of a joke and Enkidu was humoring him.
Illya nodded. Sometimes friendship was like that. She said, "I've got three zombies in here." She unlocked a changing room, opened it with a jiggle and a jerk.
Enkidu put the three zombies on a pipe lead and mumbled to her as he headed with his charges out the door.
She said, "You have a good evening too." Then she remembered. "Oh, wait." She ran and got her purse. She carefully pulled out the fragile zombie head. Poor thing. Its temple wasn't but half caved in. She said, "I hope you'll be able to find the body."
"Yeah, babe, no problem." Gilgamesh winked at her and took the head.
Enkidu bopped Gilgamesh's head as he walked by. Gilgamesh chucked and winked at her again, but started off before Enkidu started to wrestle with him.
Sometimes, Illya wondered if maybe Enkidu wasn't a mite sweet on her, and this was Gilgamesh's fool way of getting his dead friend to ask her out, or it could just be that the king of ancient Uruk-gone-by was a mite of a perve. Hard to tell.
Gilgamesh yelled out, "Come on everyone. Let's go home. Brains for the worthy." He carefully put the head in a sack over his shoulder and waved his brain pole. "Old dead for new. Old dead for new." He laughed to himself. Enkidu mumbled something that might have meant "He means well." It also could have been a Sumerian curse. Illya really oughta take that class. Course, she could also get Enkidu a set of dentures for whatever winter holiday it was that ancient Sumerians from Uruk-gone-by celebrated. She did appreciate them volunteering their time like this.
Illya finished closing and clocking out. She lowered the metal doors down over the glass front wall, which would just have to be cleaned tomorrow. She walked briskly through the gleaming empty mall. The zombies were all gone. Heading home to their underworld following a brain on a stick.
Illya crossed the vast parking lot that surrounded the mall. She had her baton in hand, just in case, but all she heard was the distant bellow on the Bull of Heaven. Sounded like Sky Father Anu had caved to his little girl, and tomorrow there would be enormous potholes in the parking lot to mirror the holes in the Ishtar's heart.
Poor thing. Illya pushed thoughts of Ishtar aside as she perched on an itty bitty bus seat designed to keep homeless souls from sleeping on it, and which made it practically impossible for people waiting for the bus to sit.
She sat anyway, tapped her baton against her shoes to the sound of the passing cars, and waited for her bus to carry her home.