Authors: MaryJanice Davidson
"Is this Elizabeth Taylor?"
"Yes. And don't joke about my name; I've heard them all."
"Elizabeth Taylor of one-two-one-five Ramsey Street?"
I yawned, and covertly felt my teeth. Nope; fangless. "Yes, and I'm perfectly satisfied with my long distance service. Thanks anyway."
"Why," the voice—male, sounded like he was in his early 20's—demanded, "are you answering the phone?"
"Because it rang, dope. Now, I'm really very busy, so if—"
"But you're dead!"
I paused. How best to handle this? Who was this guy? Visa? The utilities company? "Don't believe everything you read," I said finally. "Also, the checks are in the mail, but since I just got laid off I'd like to make payment arrangements—"
"You're a vampire and you're in your own house answering your phone?!? Get
I nearly dropped the phone. "A) How did you know that, and b) fat chance! Plus, the mortgage is paid off. I'm not going anywhere. Nighty-night."
I hung up, but almost immediately the phone rang again. If a phone could ring angrily, mine was. Or maybe I was just picking up the emotions of the person on the other end. Either way, the phone practically jumped into my hand. "Hello?"
Why are you answering your phone?"
"Because it keeps ringing!" Why why
didn't I get caller I.D. when I had the chance? "Now stop bugging me."
"Wait! Don't hang up!"
Like I would. Could this be another vampire? Even if he wasn't, he knew I was. Maybe he could tell me what's been going on, give me some pointers. Anything was better than spending the next ten years finding things out the hard way. "Well," I said coyly, "I'm very busy."
"Look: come to the downtown Barnes and Noble...you know where that is?"
"Sure." Hard not to; it took up an entire city block.
"After you feed, meet me in the cookbook section..."
"That's mean!" I protested.
"Okay, fine, the humor section."
"That's not much better," I grumbled. "And I don't have to feed. I'll just go right now."
A long pause, so long I thought he'd hung up, when he practically whispered, "You don't need to feed? Have you had time this evening?"
"It's no big deal. I can go a few days. What do you look like? How about a codeword? Or a super duper secret undead handshake we can use?"
"Don't bother," he said, and he sounded incredibly rattled. "I know what you look like, Taylor. See you in an hour." Click.
"Ooooh, now that sounds ominous." I hung up. Convincing Jessica I needed to meet a mysterious someone who knew I was dead—alone—wasn't going to be easy. Best to get it over with.
I love my cat. She's a pain in the ass, but she's dependable and has never once told me to change my shirt because I look like a crack whore in periwinkle blue. Heck, the whole reason I was in this fix was, in part, because of Giselle, but I hadn't gotten rid of her, or even snacked on her. I was definitely a cat person.
Which was why it was unbelievably annoying to discover dogs find me irresistible. Before I woke up in the funeral home, I had ignored dogs, and they had ignored me, and we'd gone about our separate business. No longer.
By the time I'd gotten out of my car and walked a block, nearly a dozen dogs were following me. They were relentless in their adoration. When I turned to kick them away, they darted closer and licked my ankles and grinned big goofy doggy grins. I don’t know why it hadn't happened the other night when I was prowling around Lake Street trying to kill myself in a variety of ways. Maybe my vampire pheromones took time to kick in.
As if the slobbering pack wasn't bad enough, my ears were still ringing from the scolding Jessica had given me. To sum up, she thought going out alone to meet a stranger who knew I was a vampire was a) crazy, and b) stupid, and if I was going to do such a thing, I was c) crazy and stupid. I pointed out that it'd be even nuttier to bring my fragile, mortal pal along for the ride. When I left she was willfully messing up my cupboards. She knows it makes me nuts when I can't find things.
I had parked my car in a prohibitively expensive ramp and was getting close to Barnes and Noble, when a filthy, mud-spattered black limousine screeched up beside me. The dogs (there were eight: three black labs, a corgi, a golden retriever, two enormously fat poodles, and a mutt of indistinct parentage; they all had collars and were trailing leashes) were startled by the noise, and I took advantage of that to hiss, "Get lost!" All of the limo's doors popped open…
…and several pairs of hard hands grabbed me…
…and stuffed me inside. The door slammed shut, and off we went.
"I knew this would happen," I informed my captors. "Just so you know." My captors—there were four, and they made The Rock look anemic and puny—were all holding large wooden crosses at arm's length to ward me off. One of them was agitating a small, stoppered bottle, which I took to be holy water. They were a little tense, but hardly stinking of fear. They'd done this before. "Which one of you fellas called me?"
"Well, okay, be that way, but I'm not scared. Actually, this is sort of bringing me back to prom night. The rough handling, the over-the-top limo, the sullen date...ah, it all comes back."
The one directly across from me snorted, but the other three remained Sphinx-like in their immobility. They all looked like vague clones of one another: broad through the chest, well over six feet tall, with big hands and big smelly feet. They all needed a shave, and they all had dirty blonde hair and brown eyes, and smelled like Old Spice mixed with cherry cough syrup.
"Are you guys brothers?" I asked. Nothing. "Well, then, do you all have cocker spaniels? Because you know that saying, about how people start to look like their pets after a while? Because you guys look like cocker spaniels, if spaniels could walk erect and shave most of the hair off of their bodies. And talk. Assuming you guys talk. Which I shouldn't assume, because none of you have said a word. It's just me doing all the chatting. Which is fine, I don't mind carrying the burden of conversation, though it's just this sort of thing that drives my stepsmother up a tree. It—"
"Shut up," the one on the end said.
I folded my arms across my chest. "Make me," I said, fearlessly if immaturely.
The spaniel on the end leaned and shoved his cross closer to me. I toyed with the idea of grabbing it, breaking it into a thousand toothpicks, and using one of the toothpicks to clean my teeth, but a) there wasn't anything in my teeth, b) it seemed vaguely disrespectful to the cross, and c) I didn't want to tip my hand. They were holding crosses and holy water and they felt safe. I was in no hurry to disabuse them of their quaint notions about vampires.
As I decided this, I realized the spaniel was still brandishing his cross about four inches from the end of my nose. "No, ah, no, please, it burns," I said politely. And stopped talking, which is what they seemed to prefer. Well, it was nothing to me. I decided to enjoy the scenery.
* * * * *
I groaned when we pulled up outside...a cemetery!
! Who knows...what evil...
… in the hearts...of men. Oh, puke.)
"Come on, you guys," I complained as they prodded me from the limo. "Must we live out every stereotype? If you're taking me to see a guy in a cape, I'll be very upset."
We tromped through the sufficiently spooky cemetery, complete with de rigueur moonlit tombstones, eerie owl hoots (in the middle of Minneapolis?), and large, spooky, utterly silent mausoleums. We paused outside the largest and spookiest. According to the six-inch high letters, this was the CARLSON family mausoleum, a pretty typical name for a region settled by Norwegians.
"Ooooh, the CARLSON mausoleum," I mocked, as the Cocker Boys struggled with the heavy door. "How sinister! What's next, a plate of lutefisk and square dancing? Need a hand with that?" They did not; the door was finally swinging open. "What, no scary creaking sound from rusty hinges? Better get that looked into—don't shove, I'm going."
I plodded down the seven steps, past the big stone coffins, through a stone archway, and down another twelve steps. Obviously underground, this room was well lit by—of course—torches. There were several people milling about the room, but my gaze went to one right away.
He was unbelievable. Easily the most amazing-looking man I'd ever seen outside of
. Tall, very tall—at least four inches taller than me, and I'm not petite. He had thick, inky black hair that swept back from his face in lush waves. Not many men could have pulled off the Elvis hair swirl thing, but this guy had it. His features were classically handsome: strong nose, good chin, nice broad forehead. His eyes were beautiful and frightening: deepest black, with a hard glitter to them, like stars shining in the dark winter sky. And his mouth was saved from being tender by a cruel twist of the upper lip.
And his body! He was so broad through the shoulders I wondered how he'd fit through the door, and his arms looked thick and powerful. The charcoal suit superbly set off his long frame, and speaking of long, his fingers were slim and straight; they looked deft and capable. Pianist's hands. Surgeon's hands. His shoes were—whoa! Were those Ferragamos? And why was he standing in a puddle? I started to edge toward him to get another look, when I glanced at his face again. Almost as interesting as his incredible good looks was the fact that he looked as disgusted to be there as I was.
There were other people in the room, too. I guess. Who the hell cared?
"Ah, gentlemen, you bring our newest acolyte!"
The overly-booming voice—not, sad to say, from the fella I was admiring--brought me back to myself in a hurry. Yes, there were other people in the room. Other
people, in fact. Pale, with glittery eyes and white, sharp teeth. Except they looked ill. Too pale, even for vampires, and thin, and cold, and ragged. They huddled together and stared at the speaker. They would have been scary if they hadn't looked so pathetic.
"Now, Miss Taylor, as our newest supplicant, you will be allowed to feed in just a moment. All of you will, in fact." At this, the horde looked absurdly grateful.
The speaker was approaching me from the far side of the chilly stone room. He wasn't nearly as impressive as the other guy: medium height, slightly chubby around the middle, a cleft chin (what Jessica would call, with unfailing tact, "an ass face"), watery blue eyes. And—(
)—dressed in a black tuxedo. Not a cape, but almost as bad. "First—and I require this of all new Undead Children—" That's just how he said it, too. You could hear the capital letters. "—you must get down on those dimpled knees of yours and swear fealty to me. Then we will Feast, and you will Rest at my side, our newest Undead Child, and my current Favorite."
I didn't mean to. I didn't want to. But I started to laugh and just couldn't stop. Everyone else in the room stopped rustling and murmuring, and turned shocked gazes in my direction. Except Mr. Gorgeous in the corner. His eyebrows arched and his lips twisted, but he didn't smile. He just studied me with that perfect, icy gaze.
"I can't," I giggled.
"I command you to stop laughing! You will not be allowed to Drink at the Sacred Throats of our—"
"Stop, stop, you're killing me!" I giggled and snorted and leaned against a stone bust of a Carlson so I wouldn't fall down. "Next you'll tell me there will be dire consequences for daring to mock your august self."
He pointed a finger at me. Nothing happened. This surprised him, and it also pissed him off. "Gentlemen! Punish her!"
This set me off into gales of laughter again. The Cocker Boys approached me, brandishing crosses, and one of them hurled water into my face. I must have sucked some in from laughing, because I started to sneeze. And laugh. And sneeze. And laugh. When I finally had control of myself the Cocker Boys were backed in the far corner, behind Tux Boy, and all the other vampires—except one—were wedged as far from me as I could get.