Undead and Unsure
Vampire queen Betsy “don’t call me Elizabeth” Taylor is back—and there’s going to be Hell to pay—in MaryJanice Davidson’s “one of a kind” (Darque Reviews) New York Times bestselling series…
It’s no surprise to Betsy that her trip to Hell with her sister Laura landed them in hot water. Betsy isn’t exactly sorry she killed the Devil but it’s put Laura in a damnable position: assuming the role of Satan (she may not have the training but she looks great in red)—and in charge of billions of souls as she moves up in the world. Or is that down?
But Betsy herself is in an odd new position as well—that of being a responsible monarch suddenly in charge of all things more earth-bound: like her vampire husband Sinclair who has gone from relieved to ecstatic to downright reckless now that he can tolerate sunlight. And if Sinclair isn’t enough to contend with, Betsy’s best friend Jessica is in her sixth (and hopefully last) trimester. Considering she’s been pregnant for eighteen months, she’s become a veritable encyclopedia of what not to expect when you’re expecting. Oh, the horror…
And speaking of growing pains, Betsy and Sinclair’s adopted little BabyJon is finally starting to walk. And if the increasingly unpredictable toddler is anything like his extended family, precisely where he’s headed is anyone’s guess.
The devil’s dead, and the Antichrist is pissed. That’s pretty much the whole thing right there.
Well . . . there’s one more thing: I killed the devil. And the Antichrist is my half sister. (Two more things.) Because Christmas isn’t stressful enough, right? Take it from me: if you trick the devil into granting a wish and then kill her while the Antichrist screams at you to stop, family get-togethers thereafter are uncomfortable.
But I was up for the challenge! Of course, the trick is making the family get-together happen at all. Luckily I’d married rich (and dead). And even if I hadn’t married rich (note I’m not saying married well), my best friend and gestating roomie, Jessica, was also rich. It’s weird that I was dead and lived in St. Paul in a snowless winter with two zillionaires, right? Never mind.
I used to be so heavily dependent on Hallmark. It had a card for almost everything. Even better, it had a funny card for almost everything. But I couldn’t depend on a faceless corporate entity to convey my good wishes, condolences, birthday wishes, Mother’s Day howdies, and happy holidays in general, since there were some occasions the good people at Hallmark Cards, Inc., didn’t figure anyone would need to cover.
And even after the make-your-own-card phase popped up, there were some cards that just couldn’t be made, no matter how much money got pissed away at Archiver’s.
Side note: this DIY crap has gotten out of hand. Cards first, but followed by make-your-own pop (which is soooo hard to find, so of course people start making their own), make-your-own beer (see above, re: pop), make-your-own cheese, and make-your-own eggs by raising chickens. In the middle of cities, people are raising chickens! If you don’t believe me, check a Williams-Sonoma catalog sometime. Honest to God. It’s all right there: make-your-own vinegar pot, $89.95. The Reclaimed Rustic Coop with Painted Chicken, $399.95. (I assume the chicken was painted on the side in case there was any doubt that the coop surrounded by chickens was a chicken coop.) A Backyard Beehive and Starter Kit, $89.95, so you can start your own bees (“Gentlemen! Start . . . your . . . bees!”). Make-your-own butter kit: $29.95. Who makes their own butter? When did we all decide we were living in Little House on the Prairie reruns?
All this to say there wasn’t a card at Hallmark or a sticker at Archiver’s to convey “Sorry I killed your mom, who was also Satan. Also, Happy Thanksgiving.” I didn’t even bother looking. Instead, I turned to more sinister methods of getting my “again, so sorry I killed your mom!” message across.
Balloon bouquets. A minstrel greeting (good to see that the Renaissance festival weirdos are employable the rest of the year). Cookie bouquets. Singing telegrams (yep, they still do those, and for a surprisingly reasonable price).
Comedy Central sowed the seeds of my sinister plan by running a John Hughes marathon. Remember when the slutty nurse went to Ferris Bueller’s house to cheer him up and he was at a Cubs game so she ended up singing to his crabby sister instead (played by Jennifer Grey, who went on to ruin her career with a nose job)? John Hughes: creative genius and comedy demigod.
That was why the Antichrist was in my driveway, panting and glaring and stomping up the walk in her awful Uggs (what year did the Seed of Satan think it was? also, even when Uggs were in they were not in) and shaking a fistful of balloons at me. “Stop sending these. They’re following me.”
Success! Family reunion, take one.
The Antichrist stood fuming on the—wait, that was just her breath showing because it was cold. And also, she was super pissed at me. So, literal and figurative fuming.
“You weren’t answering my calls or replying to . . . to my . . . my . . .” I nearly gagged on the word, then coughed it out: “. . . texts.” I hate that half the planet has become enslaved by their cell phones. I swore I wouldn’t fall into the sweet sticky trap of tech. But it’s like fighting a slow roll down a slope: you’ll eventually get to the bottom. You can go easy or you can go hard, but eventually you will text. “I’ve been trying to get you for days and you haven’t answered.”
“Because I’m not speaking to you!”
“I know! So I had to resort to texting and you know I hate it. In a way, I’m kind of a victim, too.”
Now she wasn’t just fuming; I could hear her perfect teeth grinding together. The Antichrist had never needed braces and had a cavity-free kisser. They must fluoride the hell out of the water in Dinkytown.
Laura Goodman (yep, you read that right and yep, the irony wasn’t lost on . . . well . . . anybody . . .) began to stomp up and down the cement walk just in front of the porch, the dozen helium-filled Mylar balloons trailing behind her. Early December in Minnesota could be awful, but we were enjoying a balmy stretch of low thirties. There’d been snow a few days before but it was melting. Not that it made a difference to Laura: with her feet cocooned in Uggs, she could have been scrambling for Noah’s Ark and her feet would have stayed dry. And why was I thinking about her feet? Answer: because they were pretty little feet trapped in huge ugly boots, and I felt sorry for them.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” she explained. Pace, pace, turn, pace. She turned so fast I couldn’t see her for a second until she batted the balloons out of her face. I bit the inside of my cheeks so I wouldn’t smirk. “I don’t want to see you. Thanks to you, I have to make some major decisions about my life. Thanks to you, not only my life but the lives and/or afterlives of millions might have changed or will change. I’ve lived with the fact that I am the Desolator since I was thirteen. Now I have to decide if I’ll take up my mother’s sword and I’m not even legal drinking age. Bad enough that I have to tolerate the situation at all. I won’t tolerate you, too.”
Don’t say anything about how “the Desolator” sounds like some kind of super food processor. Want your veggies pureed in a jiff? Try the Desolator!
When I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to come out of my mouth, I began. “Look, I’m sorry—”
“—about the situation. You’re right,” I added with what I hoped she saw as a sympathetic shrug. “I’m not sorry I killed the devil. But I’m sorry you had to see it. And I’m sorry you’re stuck now. Yeah, it’s my fault. I’m owning it. I want to help you.”
She barked a laugh. “Help me?” She shook her head, and perfect blond waves obscured her eyes and then the blue headband forced it to fall back into place, framing her perfect face. “You’ve helped enough.”
I must, I must discover what she uses for conditioner . . . and moisturizer . . .
She stepped up, stepped close. Her grip on the balloon strings was white-knuckled; when she moved there was the sinister rustle of Mylar rubbing together. I’d come off the porch and was standing in our muddy driveway, cursing my cold feet but far too badass to bitch about my cold clammy wet muddy feet. When I’d heard her drive in I’d sprinted for the front door, which meant the neighborhood was treated to me in my tattered RenFest sweatshirt (“Dragon Bait”) and equally shredded purple leggings (it was laundry day, which meant if you thought my clothes looked bad, you did not want to see my underwear). And that was all. Since I’d already died I couldn’t freeze to death, but I was cold even when the temps were Texas hot. Standing in the cold with muddy feet was agonizing, but Laura had even bigger problems.
She was wrong to say I’d helped enough. I wasn’t done yet.
“Stay away from me,” she said evenly, her baby blues glaring into my baby blue-greens. Even though I knew what she was capable of, it was hard to take her seriously in her cream-colored merino wool sweater, jeans that were so faded and comfortable they probably felt like silk, Uggs (but I won’t go into that again), and the balloons streaming behind her. Completing the picture of corn-fed angelic innocence and beauty, her shoulder-length buttercup-colored hair was held back from her face with a thin powder blue ribbon. It was a lot like being menaced by a conservatively dressed Victoria’s Secret model (holding balloons). She looked gorgeous but it was impossible to fear her (even without balloons).
“Stay away,” she said again, “and keep away.”
“I think that’s redun—”
“I’ll be back when I know what I’ll do about you.”
“Well, don’t worry about calling first. Just pop on by anytime. Literally, even.” The Antichrist could teleport. But I, who hated the pop-in, was generously letting her know it was okay. See? I was trying, too!
She turned on her Uggy heel and started for her car, a used but well-cared-for ginger-ale-colored Fusion. Because the Antichrist was all about green, and gas mileage. Except, now that the devil was dead, did that mean Laura was the devil?
“But what about Thanksgiving?” I called after her. My trump card! Laura would turn down charity work before she’d turn down mashed potatoes and gravy, especially on a family holiday.
“What about Thanksgiving? It was days ago.”
“Yeah, we postponed it.” As she turned and her glare got ever more pissy, I continued. “Because it’s not Thanksgiving without blood relatives. And Jessica. And her boyfriend whom we’ve known maybe a year. And Marc, who’s dead.” Ah! My loyalty to friends both living and dead would show that deep down I cared about her, we all cared about her, and this latest awful thing would blow over and our bond as sisters would be ever more strengthened. It was just a matter of—
“You lying bitch.”
“Whoa!” Usually Laura’s idea of foul language was to pepper her exclamations with dang, darn, doy, and ish. “That’s cold. Like my poor frozen feet. Which you shouldn’t even think about because us working this out is way more important than my blue shriveled feet, which have gone numb in an agony of coldness.”
“You’re postponing Thanksgiving because you hate Thanksgiving,” she snapped, and dammit if she didn’t have a point. “Not because you’re waiting for us to be friends again. Not that we ever were.”
“My hatred is only one small factor,” I protested.
“You stay away.” She stepped back (to my relief, because she had a real Close Talker thing going, and I made it a rule never to give way to a Close Talker) and turned, and this time I knew there was no point in trying to call her back. Her blond hair twirled and swirled around her shoulders as she headed for her car. The balloons bobbed in her wake.
Wait. Blond? Huh.
One of Laura’s odder traits (and consider the source who called it odder for an idea of how weird it was) was, when she got super pissed, red-hot furious, her outside matched her inside, a soul trying so hard to be good when all of its instincts were to be bad. When she was angry her hair deepened to the color of blood on fire, and her eyes went poison green.
Not today, though. And I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Her coloring was a litmus test to gauge her temper. Blue eyes and blond hair meant that no matter what she said or how she said it, the Antichrist wasn’t furious. There was strong emotion there, sure, but it wasn’t anger. She was afraid.
Of me? Herself? Both? The latter probably, yeah. It struck me as a sensible reaction, and I had to face the knowledge that things between the (new) devil and me were gonna get worse before they got better.
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