SHOP TILL YOU DROP -- DEAD
[the fourteenth in The Scorpion Chronicles]
by Nat Faul <email@example.com>
DISCLAIMER: (June 2001) This is not posted for any profit but to share creative ideas with other Charmed fans on this and other websites. The characters of Prue, Piper, and Phoebe Halliwell, Darryl Morris, and Bane Jessup are property of Warner Brothers Television. This story is a sequel to Midnight Madness by Wendy Webb, which can be found in Women of Darkness, edited by Kathryn Ptacek and published by TOR Books, 1988. Mickey Gault and Discount City are creations of Wendy Webb. Other characters were created by this author. Any similarities to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The following account is fiction. Its sole purpose is to entertain. Being conceived during the second season of the Charmed series, this series of stories is not parallel with those of the current season. (So Phoebe doesnít meet Cole, Piper and Phoebe donít have new powers, Piper and Leo arenít married yet, and Prue is still with us.)
RATED G: suitable for all ages
Lieutenant Corwin South drove down Highway 78, which wound through empty fields. It was early morning. Sunlight shone through the chilly mist. At Montreal Road, he turned off onto an unpaved road. It was a trail for tractors and other farm vehicles. It turned to a steep wind up to a plateau and onto a yellow field of stubble. He drove up to a circle of police cars and a coroner vehicle surrounding an old Volkswagen beetle.
Lieutenant South reluctantly got out of his warm car into the cold air and joined his fellow officers. "All right, Jimmy. What have we got?"
"Mickey Gault, female, 42, found strangled outside her car in the middle of nowhere. Friends say she never returned from a midnight shopping sale. She was found by the propertyís owner."
"Shopping sale? Midnight? Out here?"
The officer handed him a newspaper. "Found this in her car. She marked an ad for a midnight sale at Discount City. It lists an address, which doesnít exist, and shows a map, which leads out here. Checked with the paper and they deny ever running the ad. Theyíre sending a copy of the issue to headquarters to prove it. Checked around all the businesses and found that thereís no such thing as Discount City."
South opened the paper to the dog-eared page and saw the large letters: MIDNIGHT MADNESS. "Anyone else receive a paper with this ad?"
"Apparently not. From the tire marks on the road up here, she was the only one."
"But why just her?"
That was last Winter, somewhere else. This Summer in San Francisco, the Halliwell Sisters gathered around the breakfast table. Prue was spreading out books and papers. "Itís about time we really went over this new information about our latest demons. Here is all the information we got from that cult awhile ago. We should familiarize ourselves with these demonsí names, powers, and tactics."
"What about the cults?" wondered Piper.
"Although the cults are numerous and dangerous, they are mortals. The demons are the most dangerous so we need to concentrate on them. Once the demons are vanquished, the cults have no direction and will just fall apart."
"Anything on the ĎGlowing Maní?"
"Letís not keep calling him that," said Phoebe. "Letís find a name for him."
"How about Dexter?"
"With those glasses, he looks like a Dexter."
"Those are goggles!"
"Whatever! He still looks like a Dexter to me."
"How about Beauregard?"
"With that uniform, he looks like a Beauregard."
"Oh yes! Thatís a good one!"
Prue loudly cleared her throat. "Could we get back to the important matter at hand? The only name we need to know is Trindo Blinnyworm."
Piper complained, "What a campy name! Where do they come up with such names?"
"Itís not the name we need to worry about, but the fact that his mission is to kill us."
Phoebe heard the newspaper hit the front porch and went out to get it. She brought it back to the kitchen table and disassembled it, dividing the section between Piper and herself.
Prue sighed with frustration. "I canít figure out why push aside live-saving information for the mundane news."
Phoebe commented, "Just hanging on to something normal here."
Piper added, "Right. With so much time devoted to fighting warlocks and demons, weíd like to see how normal people live. Sometimes it reminds us of what weíre fighting for."
Prue acquiesced, took a section of the paper, and began reading it. Phoebeís attention was caught by an ad, reading, "MIDNIGHT MADNESS". She pulled out the section and read it.
Lieutenant South sat at his desk at police headquarters. A fellow officer walked by and dropped a few papers on his desk. He leaned over to him to murmur, "Remember the Gault murder last December?"
"Yeah. What ya got, Ben?"
"Two more murders -- in Tennessee and Nebraska. Same MO."
"Same ad in the paper? Both led out to nowhere? Both strangled?
"Check, check, and double check."
"What about the victims? Any correlations to Gault or each other?"
"None. So far, it looks like the victims were chosen at random. But it looks like we got a serial killer on our hands."
"Hard to tell where heíll strike next."
"Then the whole country should be alerted."
"Thatís up to the captain."
"Iíll talk to him."
Phoebe was showing Piper the ad. "But look at all these sweaters and blouses! And at these prices! How can you stay away from these?"
"I canít just leave the club on a Friday night to go shopping. Itís one of the busiest nights of the week. Besides, itís Summer. We donít need sweaters right now."
"We still get fog in the Summer. We need sweaters on days like that. And there are other things there at unbelievably low costs! What about you, Prue? Would you like to come?"
"No way. I have tons to do, which I want to finish before the weekend. Bane and I havenít been out together for over a week so I want all weekend open for time with him."
"What about time with your sisters? We havenít done anything together since God knows when! Weíre becoming just strangers who happen to live in the same house!"
"Weíll do something together. But with all of our busy schedules, we have to really plan ahead. We all canít drop everything for a sale which is just a few days away."
"Could I at least borrow your car?"
"Sure. I wonít need it. Hopefully, Bane and I will be spending quiet time here."
There was a knock at the door and Phoebe went to answer it. It was Derek. "Need a ride to school?"
In his car, Derek felt that Phoebe was troubled with something. "Something wrong?"
"My sisters and I havenít spent much time together lately. I had an idea of going to this real super sale Friday, at midnight, but none of them are interested."
"A midnight sale? What store is doing that?"
Phoebe pulled out the ad and showed it to him. "Itís called Discount City. Look at these prices! Can you believe this? But Prue and Piper are just letting them slip by!"
"Hey! Thatís an idea! Screen out the softies so that only the hardy ones get the savings. I might try that with some of my businesses."
"Would you like to come with me?"
Derek shook his head. "Thatís a girl thing. Guys donít go shopping. Besides, I donít need discounts. And neither do you. I can afford anything I want with no big deal. I can buy you anything you want."
"But they wouldnít be mine. They would be yours, just given to me. You understand?"
"Sure! As I always say about my treasure huntiní, ĎIt ainít the haviní; itís the gittiní.í "
"Right! Thatís how I feel about so many things in my life too!"
"Great minds think alike."
Lieutenant South and a fellow officer walked the halls of the police department, discussing the "Discount City Murders".
"They called in the feds on this Ďcause the killerís going across state lines. So weíre gonna hafta work with Ďem. Hate workiní with feds. Lookiní down on us as dumb hicks."
"What about the alert?"
"Thereís an alert in the Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states. By the killerís pattern, we guess heíll strike in those places next."
"We canít be guessing with human lives. It should be a nationwide alert. The killer must know the police are studying any pattern he leaves behind. He could break his pattern to throw us off. Since his victims are chosen at random, as far as we know, it shouldnít matter where it is next. As long as he kills someone, he gets his jollies."
"Well, thatís up to the feds in charge."
"Iíll have to talk with them."
"You think theyíll listen to you?"
"Iíll make Ďem listen."
Down Highway 101, Phoebe turned off according to the directions of the ad. An unlit road led through the trees for less than a mile then opened up into an immense well-lit parking lot. The unlit areas, beyond the ends of the lot, gave the illusion of endless space; as if the plain went on forever. Across this plain sat a large box-like building, five stories high, with its facade full of lights. Looking around, she saw no one else there. She stopped and wondered if she was in the right place. The big red letters in lights reaffirmed that this was Discount City.
With plenty of space, she parked right up front. An eerie silence cloaked the air like a snow-covered field on a windless day. She walked up to the double glass doors and they electronically opened for her. At the threshold she looked in at the rows of cashier stations, each with its lamp lit to signify a worker was there ready to serve the customers. But there were no workers at the stations. There were no customers. Phoebe looked at her watch. It was just a few minutes before midnight. She had expected a rush long before now. She looked back and forth between the nearly empty parking lot and the empty store and wondered. How many women could resist a sale? And midnight is not too late for most party hardy San Franciscans. What was going on here?
Phoebe walked in and called out, "Hello? Woo-hoo! Paying customer here!"
The muzak kicked in through the sound system. She looked up and sarcastically growled, "Thanks a lot! Just the greeting I was looking for! Oh well. That completes the whole shopping experience."
A telephone began ringing at one of the cashier stations. Phoebe ignored it and walked over to the racks and tables. Discount signs were up everywhere. She continued down the row of displays while looking back, wondering if anyone was going to answer that phone. It was then she bumped into someone. She was shocked to finally find someone there.
"Oh! Sorry! Didnít mean to startle you!" He had a doughboy face with thick-rimmed glasses, and wore a white shirt with black tie and slacks. A tag on his shirt read "Manager".
"Oh no! Itís my fault! I was distracted by that telephone...." Now she noticed it had stopped ringing.
"Thatís all right. Our answering machine got it. My name is Horton. Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Uh ... Yes. Where is everybody?"
"Our clerks are busy with a lot of last-minute preparations. We figure theyíll be ready and at their stations before the first few customers are ready to make their purchases."
"Well, Iím the only one here, so it might not be very long."
"There are others here. Itís just that itís such a big place, theyíre pretty much spread out. Itíll take you awhile to run into one of them."
"Really? But my carís the only one out in the parking lot."
"Which direction did you come from?"
"Well, then youíre the first from the north to arrive. We directed all customers to the south to our westside parking area. There are a few of them here."
"Oh! It just seems strange that there isnít a stampede by now. How many can resist such a sale?"
"I guess theyíre just being fashionably late."
"Right! Thatís it! I didnít think of that."
"Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Yes." She held up the ad where she circled a few items. "Where are these blouses and sweaters?"
"Womenís apparel -- second floor. Keep going straight down this aisle and youíll see an escalator to your left."
"All right! Thank you!"
"And if thereís anything else you need, feel free to use any of the courtesy telephones and someone will be with you promptly."
"All right. Thanks."
Phoebe went on her way, a little more at ease over this strange situation. It was still a bit weird to her but Horton seemed like a nice guy.
Upstairs she walked among the tables of sweaters and racks of blouses. They were all she had expected and more. However, she noticed no one else around. She had at least expected a few there if there were any customers in the store at all. There were no floorwalkers or clerks in the area either. She walked around the entire floor, even looking into the fitting rooms. Still not another human being could be found. She stood for a moment, in the middle of the Accessories section, and wondered.
And as if things werenít eerie enough, she felt a cold breeze at her back. She looked around and noticed no opened window. In fact, there were no windows at all on this level. She looked up but saw no air vents and heard no hum of an air conditioner. So from where, on this warm Summer night, did this frigid breeze blow?
Then she noticed a row of purses, hanging from a rack, swaying, as if in a breeze or just brushed by a passer-by. She went up to them and looked up and down the aisle. She saw no one and felt no breeze on that spot. On one side of her vision she caught a glimpse of a movement. She turned and saw a mirror. Someone or something, too quick to be identified, had gone by the mirror. She went over to it and looked around. She still saw no one. Phoebe was getting impatient.
"All right! Who else is here? ... Come on! Iím not here for games! ... All right! Iím calling the manager!" She stormed off seeking a courtesy telephone.
At the Fragrance section, she heard the sound of an atomizer spraying. Suddenly the air was filled with a flowery scent. She figured at last she found another customer, trying some of the merchandise, or maybe even a clerk demonstrating something for a customer. But on rounding a display shelf and coming to the counter, she found no one there. On the counter sat a bottle of perfume. Large lacy lettering, on the label, read Sudden Madness. On picking it up to examine it, a vision burst in her head. She saw herself struggling with two skeletal hands around her neck. She was being strangled. The figure behind her was obscure; just several wisps of blackness. Suddenly the reek of death and decay billowed up into her nostrils and down her throat. She began to cough uncontrollably and bolted to get away from the area.
At a far side of the floor, she leaned against a wall, still coughing to clear her lungs and throat. Tears blurred her eyes and her nose ran. She held her chest, gasping and wheezing, and sank to the floor. She felt dizzy and sick. She took a tissue from her purse, wiped her eyes, and blew her nose.
She rested awhile, waiting for her head to clear and her nose to dry. She had to pull herself together and contemplate on what she was facing. Is this a warlock, demon, or ghost? She matched her situation with past experiences but came up with several different guesses.
Suddenly she noticed a pair of legs stepping up to her. In a panic, she awkwardly struggled to her feet and prepared to fight. Horton looked very puzzled.
"Are you all right?"
"No! Iím being stalked!"
"What? Are you sure?"
"Yes! Heís been moving around me in hiding, moving things around, spraying perfume around me...."
"Now, I can see youíre upset...."
"No. This...." She waved a hand in front of her face, gesturing to her red eyes. "...Just a reaction to the perfume."
"Did you see what he looks like?"
"Hardly. All I know is heís wearing black and has skinny hands."
"Not much to go on."
"But with so few customers, it shouldnít be hard for your security people to find him."
"Uh ... Right! Could I get you anything? A glass of water?"
"Why donít you come down to my office, while I call Security? Youíll be much safer there."
Prue and Bane cuddled up on the sofa in front of the television.
Prue sighed with relief. "Finally got everything done! Now Iím ready to just take it easy all weekend."
"Me too. Want you and I to take it easy together?"
"I insist on it!" They held each other tightly and kissed.
Then an announcement on TV caught her attention. "This is a public service announcement. Police are warning anyone, receiving an ad in the newspaper for a ĎMidnight Madnessí sale, to call the police immediately. This is not a real sale. Do not follow the directions given. Bring this ad to the police. Repeat: Do not go to this Ďsaleí. Contact the police immediately."
"Oh my God! Phoebe!" She ran to the telephone.
Bane called after her, "What about Phoebe?"
"She got that ad and went there!"
"Is that bad?"
"From what the guy just said, it doesnít sound good!" On the phone, she reached someone. "Hello! ... Yes. We received a Midnight Madness ad. ... No. But my sister went. Sheís there now. Whatís this all about? ... Oh my God! ... No. I donít remember the directions. I wasnít interested so I didnít pay any attention. But maybe my other sister would know. ... Sheís at work. I can call her. ... Could you please let Inspector Darryl Morris know? ... Yes. I know heís home at this time. But could you just let him know that Phoebe Halliwell is in serious trouble?"
Phoebe sat in Hortonís office. He came in with a paper cup of cold water and she thanked him. As she drank to soothe her throat, Horton pressed a key on his telephone.
"Security? ... Meet me in Womenís Apparel. ... Yes. A troublemaker. ... Right. ... Right. ... On my way." Then to Phoebe, "Wait here. I wonít be long."
She nodded. He left. It took a little while for her senses to clear further, to realize that if this is a supernatural being, Horton and a few other men would be no match for him. She should be there. But first she should call her sisters and tell them what sheís facing. At the phone she pressed the 9 key, to make an outside call.
But then a gruff male voice came on line, harshly whispering, "Pretty girrrrrrrrl!"
"Who is this?"
"Pretty girrrrrrrrl! I want you!"
"If youíre trying to scare me, youíre wasting your time! Iím not your helpless female type!"
Then the line went dead. She hung up and went to the door. She found it locked. At first she thought Horton was trying to protect her. But she didnít recall hearing the lock click when he left. Then she figured her stalker may have locked it, to keep her there while he takes care of Horton and the security team, then come for her later. Phoebe raised up one leg, then with a loud "Hee-ya!", kicked the door open. She ran out of the office, around to the escalator, and back up to the second floor.
"Horton! Horton! ... Horton?"
She saw no one; heard nothing. She ran the length and breadth of the floor, looking up and down each aisle. Still no one else could be seen. She feared that this phantom could have killed them and disposed of their bodies. But there was no sign of any violence. Everything was neatly in its proper place. Then she wondered if Horton could be in league with the stalker. Or could he be the stalker himself? A shape-shifting demon? Without her sisters and The Book of Shadows, she didnít have much with which to work.
While pondering these things, she made eye contact with a pair of eyes, staring at her between the shelves of a display case. She could feel the malice in them. She paused awhile then leapt into a dash towards them. But there was no one behind the case. She looked around, trying to catch anyone running away, but saw no one anywhere. She felt around the furniture, which he may have touched, to pick up a vision of where he might be next. But she got nothing. She tried standing in different places, where he may have stood. Still she couldnít receive any visions. She thought the only way he can escape her detection is to float in mid-air, not touching anything at all. Or he may be a very powerful demon.
Somewhere a telephone began ringing. She went towards the direction of its sound and found it by a cashier station.
On picking it up, she heard that voice again. "Pretty girrrrrrrrl!"
"Arenít you tired of this game yet?"
"Pretty girrrrrrrrl! I want you!"
"Well, here I am! You know where I am! Why donít come on out and face me, coward?"
She angrily slammed down the phone. She had to get ahold of herself. Losing it would leave her vulnerable. She tried to map out her enemy. He was avoiding a head-on encounter. A coward? Or maybe he knows sheís a witch and is wary of her power. So these wild goose chases could be a way of wearing her down. So he is afraid of her. This should give her the advantage. Or is an adversary more dangerous when afraid? Either way, it was time to make the hunter the hunted. She went on over to a nearby mirror and spread out her hands towards it.
"Mirror Mirror, who never lies.
Illusion is what you despise.
Bind his feet. Bind his hands.
Show me where my hunter stands."
In the mirror she saw a dark cloudy figure, with those evil eyes she saw before, standing behind her. Swiftly she spun around and threw her fist but caught only air. No one was there. She looked back at the mirror. Her reflection stood alone.
Phoebe had enough. She headed back for the escalator to leave the store. If she could get to a telephone, out of this monsterís control, she could call her sisters over and be back in full force. On her way, she noticed a rack of paperback novels spinning. She stopped to look around then at the rack. She grabbed ahold of it and stopped it turning. All the books were alike -- all shiny black and no lettering. On closer examination, she could see a dark blue outline forming the profile of someoneís face. She picked up a copy and looked at it. The face moved, turning fully towards her. It was her own face. The eyes were empty and the blood red lips framed a toothy sardonic grin. Again the stench of decay filled the air. She dropped the book and ran.
At the P3, Piper got back to the bar after serving drinks to several tables in a row. One of her workers handed her the telephone. "One of your sisters. Sheís sounds freaked."
Piper took it and went over to a less busy place. "Hello? ... Prue! Whatís up? ... No, I donít remember. I wasnít interested either. Why? ... What?! ... What?! ... Oh God! ... No, I donít know if she told anyone else! ... Wait! She did tell Derek! He might know! ... His office is at the American Psychic Society! ... I have the number in my purse! Iíll call him and get back to you!"
Now Phoebe was scared. She lay hiding under a table. She tried hard to quiet her panting breath. At three sides of the table, she was covered by racks and shelves. She faced the side opened to an aisle. If anyone was coming for her, sheíd see him. For the moment all was still and quiet. Even the muzak had been turned off. She lay down to rest, to calm herself down and get her thoughts together.
"Pretty girrrrrrrrl!" The voice came from right behind her neck.
She flipped around to strike first with her elbow then with her fist. "Ow!" She hit the table. No one was there. She got out from under the table and flipped it over. Furiously she pushed over all the shelves and racks all around it. Still no one was found hiding in any of them. She trembled, panted, and perspired. A cold, sharp tingle ran all over her back. Anger, fear, frustration, and confusion were now tearing her apart. She gave the table a kick, breaking off a leg. She picked it up and wielded it as a weapon, ready for combat.
From the sound system, Hortonís voice announced, "Attention, shoppers. Sorry to say that our Midnight Madness Special Sale is winding down to a close. Our doors will be closing shortly so please proceed to the nearest cashier station with your purchases right now. Remember Discount City has bargain prices on everything all year around. Thank you for braving the late hours to shop with us. Good night."
Phoebe had to get out. This time no stopping for any distractions. She went straight to where she last remembered the escalator was. But she didnít see it anywhere. She looked for the sections of the department she remembered being near it, but nothing looked familiar. The colors, styles, and format all looked different. Even the carpet and ceiling looked different. It was as if she had stepped into another store.
She went along the walls, looking for a fire escape or any kind of an emergency exit. Finding none, she supposed the demon was hiding them by an illusion. She went around the walls again, this time running her hand over them, feeling for a door she canít see.
On passing a mirror, she again saw those eyes behind her. She whirled around, swinging the table leg. Suddenly the lights went out. Plunged into total darkness with the enemy right by her, Phoebe panicked and swung wildly. From behind a pair of hands pushed her to the floor. She struggled to get up but a knee came down on her back, pinning her down. She tried punching with her elbow and kicking with her heels, but still touched no one. A pair of cold, bony hands wrapped around her neck and slowly tightened. She desperately fought for her life but could in no way strike or seize her attacker. Agony built up in her throat and chest as she struggled to breathe. Pressure built up in her face as she choked. Her strength and energy were flagging. Terror and desperation gave way to the despair of dying. There was so much more she wanted to do and enjoy. But it all too soon has to end. It was so unfair. Everything was fading out in every part of her consciousness. Darkness absorbed her into itself. She went sinking down into a black cloud with occasional little sparks here and there. She finally slipped into complete nothingness.
Phoebe noticed light -- white light. She opened her eyes. She was surrounded by white. She couldnít see quite clearly. A face appeared over her. It wasnít clear but she was all dressed in white. An angel? "Sheís coming around."
Other faces appeared over her; still not clear. Hands touched her face and hands. Soon she recognized them as Prue and Piper. She was in a hospital. A nurse stood by with them.
Prue was asking, "Phoebe? Can you hear me? How do you feel?"
Phoebe wanted to speak but her throat ached. She opened her mouth and put a hand to her throat. The nurse understood this. "Her throat is damaged. Donít make her talk."
"So that means I canít get a statement from her." Inspector Morris stood off to one side.
The nurse nodded. "Youíll have to wait until she recovers her voice."
"Could I get a written statement from her. Itís best when the details are still fresh in mind."
"Later. She needs to rest now."
Piper said, "All right, Phoebe. You take it easy now. As soon as you can get up, weíll do something together -- just us sisters. You just get better."
Phoebe smiled and nodded.
Prue commented, "It was lucky Derek remembered where you were going and got to you in time. He came to the meadow where that evil psycho lured you and scared him off. But he was more concerned about saving your life than catching him so he got away. Derek is now at that field helping the police track him down. They got the place surrounded and dogs tracking him down. He wonít get away for long."
Phoebe wanted to tell them that her attacker may be a warlock, demon, or ghost but couldnít. But they didnít need to know that now. She also wondered what they meant by her being in a meadow. What about the store? What about Discount City and the parking lot? That was something else she would have to discuss later; especially with Derek. Right now, she just wanted to sleep. With her sisters holding her hands, she relaxed and sank into a peaceful sleep.
Corwin South came into the office next morning and went to his desk. Another officer came over to him. "Got the latest on the Discount City Killer. He struck again -- in San Francisco. This time his victim survived."
"Great! They got a description from her?"
"Better. They got a description from her boyfriend who chased him away. And get this. Her boyfriend is ... the Scorpion!"
"No kiddiní! He get Ďim?"
"No. He was more concerned in resuscitating his girlfriend to save her life. But since sheís expected to make a full recovery, heís after him now."
"Hoooo-wee! I hate to be in that guyís shoes when the Scorpion catches up with Ďim!"
"You got that right!"
In the realms below, the council of demons sat for an emergency session. The eldest spoke. "I called this meeting to let you know that another has vanished while trying to kill the Charmed Ones. Not killed or driven away -- simply vanished; just as Cruentius and Incubo."
Another asked, "Could the Charmed Ones being doing this?"
Trindo Blinnyworm corrected, "None of them have the power to do anything like this. It appears that they have obtained a new ally. They have a protector. This creates a new challenge to our plan. We must now find out who this protector is and eliminate him or her. This is our new objective -- kill the Protector!"
[Next episode: the city of the dead]