The streets of Santa Barbara were still and silent. Not a breath of air stirred in the abandoned buildings, their missing doors and blown out windows dark and lifeless. The building that had been home to the SBPD for years was as dark as the rest of the neighborhood, but anyone who ventured farther than the empty entrance would have found a room illuminated by flickering candles. The lights cast shadows on the walls and illuminated desks that were now cleared of the usual computers and paperwork. Instead, they were now stacked with items such as boxes of ammunition, MRE packets and canned goods, and more candles and matches. Lassie was sitting on the edge of one of the desks, long legs stretched out in front of him. His sleeves were rolled up above his elbows while his shirttails hung loose, tattered and stained. The detective was wiping down a shotgun with an old rag and muttering angrily to himself, glaring at the weapon as if he could empower it with just his gaze. To his left, seated on the floor with her back to the wall, Jules was reloading a magazine from a box of bullets that lay open beside her. She had her blonde hair tied up away from her face, beautiful even with the dirt smudged along her left cheek and the apparent bloodstains on her ripped jacket.
Suddenly, a low moaning sound drifted through the station. Even though the windows had been boarded over with plywood and thick beams, with the door barricaded in a similar manner, there was no missing the mysterious and bone-chilling sound. Juliet sat up straighter and turned to look towards the front of the station. Lassie glanced over his shoulder as well, his grip on his gun tightening and his eyes widening ever so slightly. There was a creak and a crash, and both detectives were immediately on their feet. Lassiter loaded his gun in one quick motion, then swung it up to his shoulder and pointed it towards the dark hallway ahead of him. Jules had already brought her own weapon to bear in the direction from which the sound had come. Quick footsteps sounded in the hall, then a moment later, a figure came through the doorway, skidding to a halt when he saw the weapons pointed his way.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" the dashing new arrival raised both of his hands and gave Jules his most winning smile. "Don't shoot; it's just me."
"Spencer?" Lassie was livid. "What have I told you about rushing into places with no warning? You could've gotten shot."
"Aw, thanks, Lassie. I appreciate your concern for my well-being," Shawn returned. 'Although I'm surprised you didn't wish a zombie had eaten me," he added cheekily, slinging his bow over his shoulder to rest beside the quiver that was already there.
"If we could only be so lucky."
Jules stepped in before things could escalate any further. "Where have you been, Shawn?" she asked worriedly. "I was starting to think you weren't coming back."
"Never fear!" Shawn flashed a brilliant white smile and swept his hat off with a bow. "I could never leave you alone, my darling. Although," he added after a moment of thought, "I have to say, the third place winner of the Best Horror/Supernatural category in the seventh annual Psychfic awards could see the future, because even though we might not be in the same place, JW Grace's title, Scary Times at St. Bianca's is definitely what's going on out there." He shook his head. "Scary times in Santa Barbara for sure. Oh, and in case you're wondering, second place for that category was tied between Singingpurplerose for Vampiristic Intentions and nurzubesuch for Sins of the Youth-His Father's Son." He looked over at Jules again as he added, "First prize goes to the lovely-sounding story Love Lasts Forever, but Sanity Has a Shelf Life by Redwolffclaw."
Lassie rolled his eyes heavily as he flopped back onto the desk. "Spencer, you idiot, why are you bringing up those awards again? You'd think if anything could stop them, it'd be the zombie apocalypse."
"Stop the awards?" Shawn shook his head. "Silly Lassie, fics aren't just for kids, you know. They're the celebration of writing and the dedication of fans! You wouldn't deny them the last vestiges of the very thing that sustained them for years, would you?" He batted his eyes at the other man and gave his best smile.
Jules hid a giggle behind her hand as Lassie's frown deepened. She had taken a seat against the wall again after Shawn's entrance, and now she crossed her legs and leaned back as she regarded the handsome figure in his long coat. "Isn't there a romance award in there somewhere? she asked.
"Why yes, m'lady!" Shawn replied enthusiastically, ignoring the mutterings that came from the direction of the desk where Lassie was sitting. "In fact, I happen to know those as well, if you'd care to hear them."There was a pillar right beside him, and he crossed his arms and put one foot up as he leaned back against it. "Third place for the Best Romance Award goes to a story by moondragon23: New Traditions. Second place goes to Christmas Tree Debacle of 2014 by Redwolffclaw. And finally, first place actually goes to two authors, because the voters just couldn't decide which was best. And that would be..." He paused dramatically for a moment before announcing, "Pianissimo's Six Inches and moondragon23's More Than Skin Deep!"
Jules clapped, the sound echoing in the mostly empty room.
Shawn grinned and bowed, then frowned as a thought occurred to him. He glanced quickly around the room. "Hey, has anyone seen Gus? Last I saw, he was being chased down the street by a... herd? pack? squad? ...What do you call a group of zombies anyway?" He shrugged. "Well, something. I would have thought you could have heard his girly screams from here-"
"Hold it!" a voice yelped, cutting into the narrative.
Shawn hurriedly hit the stop button on his phone to end the recording and glared across the room at the source of the interruption. "Guuuuus! You're totally harshing my vibe, dude. I was in the zone, man. That had to be worth at least some kind of author's award."
"Yeah," Gus snorted, "like from the trash company. What is that junk anyway?"
Crossing his arms defensively, Shawn glanced down at his phone screen and sniffed. "It's none of your business, that's what it is."
Gus rolled his eyes. "All I know is I just came by to pick up a book that I accidentally left here earlier and found myself in the middle of the worst parody of The Walking Dead ever invented. And I do not scream; I exclaim in a manly fashion. Plus you know I'd whup any zombie that tried to eat me. C'mon son!" He straightened his shoulders and arched an eyebrow.
"Don't worry, buddy; no one ever understands the great artists when they start out." Shawn sighed dramatically. "And everyone always complains when I take over other gatherings to announce the awards, so I thought I would just record something fun and send it to everyone. Should I try a different genre?" And before Gus could respond, he lifted a finger to his lips, pressed the record button, and began. "Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."
Shawn just ignored him and continued, "There was a lonely man who lived all alone in the middle of the desert of a tired, old planet. He had nothing to keep him company but an old, run-down robot who lived in an old spaceship with him."
"In fact, just like the famous crime-solving couple that the American Duo Award celebrates, these two buddies were the best of friends. Oh, Gus! Do you want to know what stories about us won this year?"
If looks could kill, Shawn would have been on the floor. "No," Gus replied flatly.
"Aw, come on, buddy. These are fun, remember? The third place winner of the American Duo Award was given to two authors in a tie: Psychrulz with Luge, Bobsled...I've Heard it Both Ways and DinerGuy with Cars and Effect. The second place winner was Don't Count Your Gusses Before They're Safe by PapayaK, and, finally, first place goes to Proof Positive, O Negative by Kirei!"
Gus was still glaring. "Dude, no one even cares about those awards."
"Of course they do, Gus!" Shawn paused the recording again as he raised both eyebrows in Gus's direction. "Why else would these charming writers slave away at their computers day in and day out and then vote for each other?" Shawn pushed his rolling chair ever so slightly away from his desk and began turning in circles. "It's kind of obvious they do care about them. They even vote for the Best Alternate Universe, where they decide which unique spins on our lives are the best-written… You don't look convinced, buddy." He just grinned in response to Gus's sniff. "This year, we saw National Pineapple Upside Down Cake Day by WallFlower win third place, Wide Awake by Marniewings - who is now known as Psych_Babe - win second, and Behind the Strange Illusion by ladipretender, Family Jules (Improved and Expanded) by SnydersofHanover, and Murder They Wrote by ZedPM all tie for first place."
Gus frowned. "How can three stories tie for first place?"
"Don't ask me, Gus," Shawn shrugged. "But trust the voters. They know what they're doing."
"Right. Like they know what they're doing when they torture and kill us off." Gus shuddered. He would never admit it outright to his friend, but the awards were a source of amusement and begrudging interest to him. Not that he was a fan of anyone writing stories about his life, but he could understand the interest in creating new and intriguing narratives. But some of those narratives… No thank you.
At that, Shawn put out a hand to halt his chair’s circular motion and shot Gus a knowing look. "You mean the Boo-Boo Award?"
"Yeah, that one." Gus wrinkled his nose. "It's ridiculous." A moment later, his phone's text alert sounded, and he glanced over at the screen, then shot another look Shawn's way. "Really, dude?"
Shawn was grinning like the cat that ate the canary. "Since you love them so much, I figured you'd want to see who had won what in the Boo Boo category."
"No, I do not. Thank you very much." Gus rolled his eyes, but he couldn't resist opening the text anyway.
The message from Shawn read: "Drowning by insert56 & Strange Beyond Belief by Ladipretender r 3rd. Don't Count Your Gusses Before They're Safe by PapayaK is 2nd. The Finch and the Mockingbird by Emachinescat & Shawn's Shooting Solution by Redwolffclaw tied 4 1st"
Another text followed a moment later: "yes lots of ties lol yolo"
"Shawn, I don't think that's the right-" Gus broke off as yet another series of texts interrupted him.
"hrd it bth ways"
"also know u like the best deathfic 1. 3rd is It's Funny by Olivia94, 2nd is The Long Way Home by Redwolffclaw , & 1st is a tie btwn An Empty Room by WallFlower & The Gun He Carried by PineappleHead"
Shawn followed up with a series of broken heart and tearful emojis, to which Gus immediately responded with angry faces and one very threatening gun emoji of his own.
"Gus!" Shawn gasped aloud. "How dare you!"
Now it was Gus's turn to gasp. "How dare I? Shawn, you know I hate those awards! I'm a sympathetic crier." He sniffled as if to underscore his point.
But Shawn had already moved on and had his head turned thoughtfully. "What genre should I try next, Gus? A western? Ooh, like when we went to Old Sonora!"
Gus raised an eyebrow as he stood from his desk chair. "Just make sure I'm not the bad guy. Maybe I could be the smooth and dashing handyman who can fix anything and wins the ladies' hearts," he suggested hopefully.
"Gus," Shawn said sternly, "this isn't Holes. Besides, you don't look anything like that guy anyway; you really need to quit saying you do."
"I look more like Sam than I look like Bud!" Gus's voice was muffled from behind the refrigerator door.
"Bring me the pineapple in there, will you?" Shawn called. He didn't wait for Gus to respond before he cleared his throat and began, "It was a hot, dusty day in the little town of Dodge. The sun was shining, the tumbleweeds were tumbling, and the sheriff was sherriffing."
"Shawn, that's not a word."
"Sheriff Spencer and his trusty deputy, Butterfinger Candybar-"
"That's not my name, Shawn," Gus yelled from the kitchen. "Isn't he a British actor or something?"
Shawn shrugged. "I think he's a dragon."
"Oh." Gus paused. "Well, that's cool. I can be a dragon."
"You know that's right!" Shawn returned his friend's long-distance fist bump before continuing where he had left off. "They were patrolling the town, looking for any sign of trouble, when they found it. The most notorious gunslinger in the entire West was in the saloon, drinking like he didn't have a care in the world. Of course, he didn't even stand a chance against the shady characters who were nominated in the Best Big Bad/Original Character category this year. The bad ones were badder and the good ones automatically won out because of obvious reasons." Shawn flashed Gus a grin as his friend rolled his eyes. "Love Lasts Forever, but Sanity Has a Shelf Life by Redwolffclaw takes home the win for both Ben Larson in third place and Adam Peterson in second, while Aaron Stevens from Emachinescat's The Finch and the Mockingbird takes first."
There was a brief pause, during which Gus hoped Shawn had given up on the announcements, but that was not to be the case. Shawn’s silence was just to give him time to concentrate on scribbling something on a stack of notecards. “There's nothing like getting involved to get you excited for something,” he explained as he glanced up and caught Gus watching him. “Why don't you make up a story for the next ones?"
Pausing mid-stride between the kitchen area of the offices and their desks, Gus exclaimed, "Me? Shawn, you know I don't roll like that. I don't even write!"
"Uh huh. And that notebook full of various scifi fanfiction under your bed belongs to...?"
Gus's eyes widened as he paused halfway back to his desk. "You don't know that's mine," he recovered lamely.
"Uh-huh. Sure, buddy." Shawn nodded slowly. "But don't worry," he added quickly. "I would never judge you. You can always feel free to be yourself around me. Well, except maybe if you write stuff for The Mentalist. I might have to judge you for that one. And speaking of not judging, you know who else shouldn't be judged? Authors who leave their stories unfinished for long periods of time." Then he glared meaningfully at Gus. "And friends who don't bring other friends things they specifically asked for."
In response, Gus just kicked his feet up on his desk and leaned back in his chair. "Your legs work. Go get your own pineapple," he returned, crunching a chip to accentuate his point.
"I'm working here, buddy!" Shawn protested. "Just like some of our favorite authors are doing when they're too busy to update their stories. Good thing for them there's a category to award slow updaters."
"Is this the Most Wanted WIP category?" Gus asked around a mouthful of snacks.
"Yep," Shawn nodded. "And this year, we saw a winner from the last awards make another appearance. People must really want to read the rest of it." He waved an index card at Gus. "And it would be silverluna's . . . And Other Wilderness Pursuits. That one tied with Night of the Rodentia by Texasartchick for second place."
"Wait, what about third place?"
Shawn simply shrugged. "No third place on this round. Just two seconds and a first – which happens to be NoirCat's Happy Halloween II: The Haunting. Which I have to admit sounds like a very interesting tale! No wonder people are interested in it."
"There are more to stories than just titles," Gus interjected.
"True," Shawn agreed. "But luckily, we just so happen to have a category for titles too! Want to do the honors?"
Rolling his eyes, Gus finally nodded. If there was one thing he had learned from his years of being Shawn's friend, it was usually easiest to just do as he asked rather than put up with the incessant pestering that would come until something new caught his attention. Unfortunately, with Shawn, the time between fixations was unpredictable; it could be five days or five minutes. So in favor of preserving his sanity, he nodded and reached for the card Shawn was holding out towards him. "Fine. The third place award for the Most Psych-like Title goes to Psych-ollogically Speaking by PirateJenna while the second place award goes to The Breakup, The Motorcycle, and the Stolen Car by GirlFromBlackMountain. And then finally first place was awarded to There's No "I" in Team, but There Is an "E" for Escape by Syncop8ed Rhythm."
"You have to admit those are pretty good," Shawn remarked. "Almost as good are the stories that won Most Psych-like Story. Third place in this category goes to the talented writer DanzCrazy for And We Learn To Move On, second place to Psychrulz for Partners for Life, and first place to moondragon23 for The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same."
Shawn was ready with the next card as soon as Gus finished. “And then we have the winners of the Best Standalone or Short category - which I still don’t understand,” he said, looking over at Gus. “How does a pair of shorts stand alone? Don’t they need legs to keep them up?”
“Okay, okay,” he acquiesed. “A Shules Sick Day by me_ won third place, Case Closed by moondragon23 won second and In Regards to Burton Guster by Vindicata won first.”
“Oh I like that last title,” Gus observed, puffing out his chest ever so slightly.
“You know that’s right,” Shawn agreed. Then he scanned through the remaining cards, his brow puckering as he did so. “There’s none like that for me, Gus,” he complained, looking back up and sticking out his lip in a pout. “Oh wait, yes there is! It’s one of the first place winners of the Best Crossover award! Before that, though, we have DTS’s (White) Collar Optional in third place, PirateJenna’s Anything's Better Than Army Food in second, and then Redwolffclaw’s Love Lasts Forever, but Sanity Has a Shelf Life tied with my personal favorite, DTS’s Psychic in the City.” He grinned.
Before either friend could read off more of the awards, Shawn’s phone began vibrating on his desk. His face lit up as he read the caller ID display. “Hiiiiii, Lassie!” he answered the phone. “Guess what we’re doing?” He paused, then made a face at whatever Lassiter was saying. “Aw, I know you don’t mean that. We’re reading off the Psychfic Awards winners!”
Gus winced in sympathy as Shawn pulled the phone away briefly before putting it back to his ear. “Now, Lassieface, don’t forget you and I have our own awards category! It’s the You Astound Me Award. Remember?” He paused again. “Of course you do; don’t be silly. There’s some awesome stuff this time around, like the third place winner, Born to Do by moondragon23, the second place winners Mutually Assured Torture by Mikaylah and Fantastic Two by moondragon23, and the first place winners The Gun He Carried by PineappleHead and Don't Like 'Em, Doesn't Mean I Can't Use 'Em by PirateJenna.”
Shawn rolled his eyes in Gus’s direction, prompting Gus to raise an eyebrow in response. “What? Of course I want to answer your question. Questions related to old cases we solved are very important, and yes, I know you love me even though you won’t admit it. But I have one condition... What? Of course it’s the Awards! I need to finish them, you know... Lassie,” Shawn sounded as if he was trying to reason with the man on the other end of the line, “I know we don’t have an SFPD category yet, but we do still have the SBPD one! I’m sure you want to hear those... Yes, you do! Third place was a tie between Partners for Life by Psychrulz and Born to Do by moondragon23, second place was awarded to Just Desserts by Redwolffclaw, and Policemen Don't Have Balls by SnydersofHanover won first place. Lassie... Lassie, those are naughty words.”
“You should’ve known better,” Gus commented, crunching another chip.
Sticking out his tongue at Gus, Shawn continued on the phone. “Lassie, come back- Lassie? Lassie... Oh, he hung up. Should I try my dad? He likes the category about his fatherly relationship with me.”
“He’ll probably hang up on you like Lassiter did,” Gus said with a shrug.
“True. My father is a funny creature. You’d think he would like the How Many Hats? Award because of the bond it celebrates. Stories like the second place winners, The Greatest Christmas Special in the History of Basic Cable by ZedPM and Sins of the Youth-His Father's Son by nurzubesuch, or the first place winners, Home For The Holidays by Psychrulz and The Finch and the Mockingbird by Emachinescat, only make my point for me.”
Gus made a face. “Why is there no third place again? And why are two stories in each spot? This doesn’t make sense.”
“I told you earlier,” Shawn replied, “trust the voters. They’re the ones in charge so they must know what they’re doing. Besides, not all the categories have ties! The award for Best Mystery has a third place winner and it only has one in each spot: Don't Count Your Gusses Before They're Safe by PapayaK in third, Confessions of my Past by AmazingLadar in second, and Roulette by PineappleHead in first. Oh, and Best Episode Tag or Missing Scene was the same way, with bettername2come’s My Most Admirable Foe in third place, dragonnan’s Clarifying the Facts in second, and Redwolffclaw’s Mr. Yin Presents: The Lost Hours in first.”
“Shawn,” Gus cut in as he crumpled his now-empty chip bag in a ball and tossed it in the trash can by his desk, “please tell me you’re done with these silly awards now. I came to pick up a book an hour ago and somehow ended up in the middle of... Well, whatever you call all of this.”
“Uh, only the best awards ever invented.” Shawn’s tone left no room for confusion. “Except maybe the awards they give out at baking competitions. Those are pretty good.”
“Whatever, I’m out of here,” Gus told him, pushing back from his desk and standing to his feet.
“Wait!” Shawn implored. “There are only four left, and they’re all the single awards. It won’t take long! You can even read them if you want.”
Gus reluctantly took the index card from Shawn. “Fine, but only because it’ll get me out of here faster. Let’s see... The award for Best Beta goes to Redwolffclaw... Shawn, what in the world is a beta anyway? Because I doubt they give out awards for being the best fish.”
“Oh, it means editor,” Shawn clarified.
“Well why don’t they just say that?” Gus groused. “Then the Best Reviewer is dragonnan, the Best New Writer is PirateJenna, and- Dude, you needed one of those betas here, because there’s more than one Best Overall Writer,” he said, pointing to a line scrawled at the bottom of the card.
Shawn leaned over to look, then nodded. “Note taken. I’ll make sure if two people win next year that they fix that. But still, I bet Redwolffclaw and ZedPM are excited to find out they won that category, even if they have to share the placing!”
“Yeah, great.” Gus dropped the card onto Shawn’s desk and turned on his heel. “Now, I’m getting my book and leaving. See you tomorrow.” And he did just that, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Shawn didn’t even wait for the latch to click before he reached for his phone. Gus didn’t have to ask; Shawn knew his friend would appreciate a conclusion to the zombie story.