It's the kind of night where everyone looks like trouble. You got your leather jackets decked out in chains, your ripped jeans and skull t-shirts, your motorcycle helmets and shit-kicking boots. Everyone's got a weapon concealed, and it's not a question of it, it's a question of when and just who's the first one. Safe money's on one of two people.
The man in the back's wearing black sunglasses indoors and his hair shines like fresh blood underneath the light. For the last three hours, he's been drinking from a glass that never seems to get empty. They had their biggest bouncer walk over to kick him out since no one can remember serving him, but thirty seconds later, Eddie walked straight towards the front door and kept going. A few people think they may have seen something moving in the man's coat.
So a lot of people look at the girl in the corner instead. Her eyes, piercing behind their own glasses, watch everyone. She's flashing her sharp black nails as she writes something into an old brown book. Everyone wants to approach her. No one's dared. There's a pyramid of beer bottles next to her, neatly stacked and completely drained. If you looked at their labels, though, you'd have to be several thousand years old to read them.
The ballroom's filling up. They've already shut down the bar so everyone's migrated over to the main stage. A few kegs have been set up. There's bottles being passed around.
11 pm hits. Seven people have been eighty-sixed by various hulking individuals, the owner's skipped out for the night, taking all the cash and good booze, and there's a pool of red that belongs to someone (or several someones) on the dance floor. Shit's definitely going to go down any minute.
“Steve,” the drummer says suspiciously, his eyes darting around the growingly restless crowd, “can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, Mick.” Steve's nonchalantly leaning on the wall, flipping a coin between his knuckles.
“It's just,” he pauses as he hears the crash of several bottles tumbling to the floor and some muffled curses following, “I thought this was supposed to be a quick gig.”
Andy laughs. “Seriously? Didn't Brian tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
The crowd's getting louder.
Brian looks over. He's been polishing his sword until it gleams, and he sets it down. Andy's pulling out his knives from one of his countless jacket pockets. Steve's set down the coin and is pulling on a pair of brass knuckles. “Yeah?”
“Mick here says tonight's a quick gig.”
Brian shrugs. “It could be. Depends how long the bosses want it to go.”
Mick's shoulders slump. “Screw you, Brian,” he says. “You could have told me it was going to be one of those.”
Steve claps him on the back with the hand not currently sporting blood-stained spikes. “Cheer up,” he says. “I brought your nail bat.”
The bouncer at the door stares at the kid dubiously. “You sure you're on the list, there?”
There's snickers behind him, but the kid elbows one of them and they shut up. He raises his head, trying to hold eye contact. “Of course,” he says. “It's um... Gene. Gene Reynolds.”
She looks down at her list, as if she's checking it. The kids get nervous. She hears one of them say, “I told you it wouldn't work.”
The kid keeps his chin up. Give him credit, he's not backing down.
A few more seconds. She keeps her gaze fixed to the paper, but it's hard not to see the kid's bright red cowboy boots out of the corner of her eye. If he's legal, it's barely.
Not that it matters.
The bouncer shrugs. “You can come in, but your buddies have to beat it. They're not on my list.”
A few groans, but her stare is enough that they mumble and leave. She waits until they're out of sight (and ear range) then turns her gaze towards the kid.
“All right, a few things. Only bows and crossbows allowed as ranged weapons. Staffs no taller than six feet. Eye protection is recommended, but not required. Partners are allowed, as are groups of up to but no more than four people. Management reserves the right to remove anyone violating any spoken rules, as well as anyone they feel like. Oh, and no phones. “ With that, she plucks it out of his hand and stashes it in a bin next to her. “We know how you kids like to stream.”
She pats him on the shoulder. “It's your first time, isn't it sweetie?”
The kid's still confused. It's a nice tux he's wearing. Going to be a shame to see what it looks like by the end. “I thought...”
The bouncer opens the door, then shoves him in. “Capacity reached,” she calls into her walkie talkie.
“Check,” the voice responds through the static. “All systems go.”
The door slams shut behind him.
She sets the bar across the door, takes a swig from her flask, and drops the clipboard on the podium next to her before putting her earbuds in and kicking back on the chair.
The empty sheet of paper shines bright in the moonlight.
“You look bored.”
A sigh. “Maybe I am. How many of these have we done?”
“Do you want an actual count?”
“Not really. We should take a vacation after tonight.”
“I thought this was our vacation.”
“You're an idiot. I meant, a real vacation, like a cruise. And I swear, if you start any shit on it...”
“Yeah, yeah. So who are you going to pick tonight?”
“Who says I'm going to pick anyone?”
“You've been taking notes all night. There's got to be someone you've got your eye on in.”
“Let me guess, it's Crossbow over there. He looks like your type.”
“I think you're confusing me with someone else. You know I'm a lot pickier than you.”
“And yet you still picked me.”
“My worst mistake.”
A laugh. “Not to me. So if it's not Crossbow, then maybe Morning Star? No, that would be too easy.”
“You wouldn't go with an asshole, so that rules out a lot of the shitbags here. And you wouldn't go with someone who's already partnered up either. So that narrows it down considerably.
“And no one wearing armor, so I mean, who does that leave us with? Unless you count Cowboy Boots, who's clearly in over his head and doesn't even have a weapon and it's him, isn't it?”
She laughs, patting her husband on the cheek. “He reminds me of someone, don't you think?”
The man takes off his sunglasses, and rolls his eyes, red and gleaming. “He's an idiot.”
“I knew we were both thinking of you.”
This is not a wedding reception, so Phil was right about that.
But it's not a secret concert either. There is a band, but it's not one Mike's heard of and he's not sure but is it normal for bands to have shield walls? He's never seen that on TV. So he's definitely going to kill Nicky if he gets out of this.
At least the music's pretty good. There's actually people dancing to it, and he finds himself humming along. It's kind of familiar in a weird way. Maybe his parents have heard of them?
Nicky was all, oh I bet, there's going to be hot chicks and like famous dudes in sunglasses and you'll totally get to hang with them. And instead, it's big biker guys, and there's some person walking around in fucking armor and like way in the back there's some dude with sunglasses on a table sitting next to some hot chick who's winking at him.
He walks over there.
“I like your boots,” she says. “Nice color.”
Up close, she's definitely hot. And terrifying because she just keeps staring at him and smiling. The dude next to her has red eyes, which is not normal and probably contacts, but it doesn't matter because he's grinning now too.
“Yeah, Vanessa just loves anything cowboy. Tell me,” the man says, leaning in closer. “Do you have a hat too?”
Vanessa elbows him. “Really, that's the best you can come up with? I have to say, my husband is rather uninventive sometimes.”
“It'll work for him.” The man keeps eyeing him. “Name's Seth. I gotta say, the night was looking kind of dull until you showed up.”
Is she hitting on him? Is he? Are both of them? Okay, Mike is completely lost now. “Yeah, um, I thought this was some sort of special event, like one of those secret concerts or something.”
“Oh, it's special,” Seth says. “You're a lucky boy to have made it in.”
“So very lucky.” There's screaming from somewhere and Vanessa's already reaching for something in her purse next to her. “In fact, I'll give you something.” She pulls out a black box and sets it in front of him.
“Okay?” he says. The screams are getting closer.
Mike reaches for it, but she puts her hand on top of it. “Now be careful with it. Wouldn't want it going off accidentally.”
Seth's smiling fondly at her, then turns to Mike. “I never have that problem,” he says.
“He lies,” Vanessa says sweetly. “All the time.”
“So just what the hell's really going on?” Mike's pretty sure he just a guy over there pull out a spear and is that lady carrying one of those samurai swords?
“Ballroom blitz,” Vanessa says. “It's a little late tonight, but it should be starting any second.”
“Ballroom blitz?” He racks his brain. “Like a dance or something?”
“Oh, honey, have you never heard of them?” she says. “Really, they say today's youth are so much worse but you're still such an innocent.” Vanessa pats his cheek, her nails leaving red marks.
“Well, that'll change tonight.” Seth gets up and Mike has to take a step back as he jumps up on the table, knocking glasses to the floor. “Assuming you make it out alive.”
Mike grabs the box, as Vanessa also gets to her feet, pulling out – holy fuck, is that a spear? How the hell did she fit that in her tiny ass bag? Seth's also got one and shit, this is awesome and terrifying. All right, so he's probably going to die because it looks like everyone's armed, but she probably gave him something cool like a knife or a mini-crossbow or--
“All right, kids!” Seth yells. “You know what time it is!”
There's an answering roar. Weapons rattle and fists are raised.
Mike stares down numbly at the little piece of cord and small rock next to it. Well, fuck. He'll have to hope they kill him quickly.
And that's when the glowing zombies burst in from the windows.
Crossbow's breathing heavily, but there's a pile of neon green corpses at his feet that attest to proficiency with head shots. He reloads the bolts, then ducks as a ninja somersaults over his head and lands a few feet behind him.
Samurai Sword's already on top of that, though, and she slides her sword through his neck like butter. It jolts a few times, then the light goes out in its light and with a whirr of sparks and a spurt of oil, it topples to the floor. Her partner, armed with a taser, is already ripping his core and tossing it into the distance where it explodes.
The dinosaur, on the other hand, is a little trickier, having taken several tomahawk shots to the chest that have only served to anger it. It breathes fire at a man in a flak jacket who come a little too close. He moves back, inadvertently passing through a few ectoplasmic figures yellowing about cursed gold and waving cutlasses all around with no regard for personal safety.
“Shit,” he screams as he rapidly begins to age before a figure in black robes slides in front of him and begins muttering while throwing holy water and a few coins at them. With a last pitiful cry of “Arrr!”, the ghosts wither before exploding in a cloud of dust. Flak Jacket gives him a nod and a brief kiss, before getting to his feet and whipping out a bola to entangle a passing zombie.
In the center, Morning Star's being held by her feet and screaming as her partner in chain mail holds her by her feet and spins her around like a sprinkler of death. All around them, sharp-teethed clowns fall down, squeaking as they hit the ground.
Mike's hiding under a table, where he's been for the last thirty minutes. He's not sure where Seth or Vanessa went, since the last he saw them, he was diving for his life under a spout of fire. The bodies are providing good cover, but no weapons, and he's still clutching that stupid sling in his right hand.
Maybe he could grab a bottle over there or pick up that bow underneath--
Okay, the dinosaur trampling that table into bits. New plan. Keep hiding.
He just has to hold out until—come to think of it, when does this end? When everything is dead? Or is it one of those battle royale things where only the last man standing wins in which case he's definitely fucked because it won't be him.
“Hey kid, watch out!”
He whips his head up as one of the band members – the guitarist, maybe? – yells at him and it's just in time to see the dinosaur charging towards him, several screaming figures clinging to its back. Everything behind it is in on fire.
There's not enough time to go anywhere. There's nowhere else left to hide.
As if in a dream, he raises the sling, sets the rock in, pulls the cord back. He looks straight ahead into its eyes. It opens its mouth.
The rock flies straight and with a little tiny plop, it hits the dinosaur's forehead.
Mike and the dinosaur stare confused at each other.
Then it explodes in a shower of glitter, confetti, and a fair amount of blood. He ducks but it hits him full on, drenching him.
“Ah, damn it,” one of the figures, now coughing on the ground says. He think it's Flak Jacket, but he's not sure. “I knew it had a weak point. But seriously? That's so obvious.”
Samurai Sword's already next to him, grabbing his left arm to help him up as another guy with too many chains and not enough teeth gently takes the other arm. Robed Guy's already checking him out for injuries, frowning as he does so. “Well, it doesn't matter. Looks like the blitz is over.”
“I was really hoping I'd get to kill the big one this time around,” he says. “Whatever. You're a great shot, kid. Good strategy, by the way, lulling it into thinking you weren't a threat so it would get in front of you.” Flak Jacket holds out his hand and Mike takes it, still dazed.
One vigorous handshake and a few claps on the back later, he's on his feet, looking towards the door of the ballroom, now wide open. Mike's still spitting out blood and he's pretty sure he'll have to brush his teeth for like a year to get all the glitter out.
The bouncer's by the front door, as the figures begin staggering out. He watches her hand them coats, phones, sometimes keys, and in one case, a rocket launcher, before they all exit into the darkness, leaving trails of blood and glass where they stepped.
He's one of the last to leave. The adrenaline's left him and he's so tired. Just by the door, he turns to look behind him and has to blink a few times.
All the bodies are gone. It still looks like a war happened there, but you wouldn't be able to tell who was involved.
“So you had fun, right, honey?” The bouncer hands him his phone and eyes his blood-stained tuxedo with amusement. “The first time's always the hardest,” she says, “but you never forget it. Thinking of doing a round myself next time. Let someone else watch the door.”
“Yeah,” he manages. “It was... something.”
“Well, you made it.” She puts her hand on his shoulder. “And I heard Management was very pleased. I think you're going to go places.”
All he wants to go is home. To bed where he can sleep for a million years.
There's a car pulling up to the curb when he walks outside. It's sleek, black, and has some weird kind of dog thing on its antenna. The window rolls down.
Seth is grinning again. He's got a snake wrapped around his arm and he strokes its head softly. “Oh, that was lovely,” he says. “I was really worried at first, but she assured me that you'd come through in the end.”
“Not that you deserved it,” Vanessa sniffs. “It's going to take me forever to put them all back. I'm not even sure where half of them belong. Was it really necessary to use so many?”
“Eh, I got bored. You know what that's like. Had to get creative. Just like--”
“Okay,” Mike interrupts before he can get too descriptive. “I don't know what the fuck just happened or who exactly you are. But I'm tired and covered in all kinds of shit and this isn't even my stupid tux, so I just need to start walking home and maybe by the time I get there, I'll figure out just how to explain all of this.”
“See, I told you he was an idiot.” Seth opens the car door. “Reminds me of my brothers. Did you really think that this night was over? I did promise you something.”
“No, you...” Mike trails off, then swallows hard, as a scent of musk and spice sends him reeling. It's heavy in the car, and Vanessa crooks a finger at him, beckoning. She winks.
“The night's over when I say it's over,” she says. “And I think tonight's going to be a very long one indeed.”
He finds himself climbing over Seth to sit in between them. He's not psychic, but it doesn't take a prophet to see how things are going to end. He's even happy about it. Mostly.
He'll just have to hope he keeps their favor long enough to get a better weapon.
Because a sling? That's just bullshit.