Bring Out Your DeadKatie MacAlister
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Bring Out Your Dead
From Just One Sip Anthology
"Yes, I know."
"Ysabelle?" The front door thumped shut with an audible grunt from Noelle, one of my two flatmates. "One of these days we're going to get Mr. Sinclair to fix that door… Ysabelle?"
" Elk est right here avec le sitting chambre du femmes," Sally, my other flatmate, called out as she drifted through the room.
Sally had issues.
" Vous parlez a mouthful." Sally beamed at my client as she wafted past him, through the wall, and into the room beyond.
"Oh." The door to the sitting room opened and Noelle stuck her head in, a worried frown puckering her brow. "Did you know there's a small herd of zombies in the hall?"
I sighed, giving my client what I hoped was a reassuringly cheerful smile. "Yes, I know, and please, Noelle—zombie is so politically incorrect. The preferred term is revenant, or functionally deceased."
"Well, there's a group of fuctionally deceased in the hall playing strip poker, and if Mr. Sinclair sees them, he's going to have a fit. You know how he is about using the flat for business."
"Ahem! Brains!" Tim, a new revenant in need of counseling, glared at me.
"I apologize for the interruption," I said in a calm, reassuring voice as I waved Noelle away. She rolled her eyes and closed the door, leaving me with my client. "You were telling me about the taunting you experienced recently?"
"Yes, brains. Or rather, braiiiiiiiins. Spoken in a slurred, repugnant voice that was accompanied by a fine spray of spittle. That's all they said, over and over again, as if I were supposed to stagger toward them with a fork and knife, and start hacking away at their heads. I am more than a little offended by the stereotype portrayed in modern films, and which people such as those at the bus stop wholeheartedly embrace. Isn't there something we can do about it? Must we endure such things without speaking up?
Is there no way to educate the public about the true nature of revenants?"
"We're working very hard to do that, but as you know, public acceptance is a hard-fought battle, and frankly, I don't see an end in sight any time in the near future."
" Qu'est que le hell?" Sally, who had drifted back into the room on Noelle's heels, paused to look out the window.
"Sally, language, please!"
" Pardonnez. But holy merde! Voici est a whole boatload du zombies en l'rue. J'allez to get le cricket bat in case ils try breaking dans le flat."
"There, you see?" Tim pointed at Sally. She gave us a cheerful smile and flitted past to the next room. "Your… whatever she is.
That's just the sort of negative stereotypical reaction I object to!"
"Sally is my spirit guide," I answered. "I apologize for her, as well. Some time ago she decided she wanted to be French, so she changed her name to Fleur and began speaking in that atrocious Franglais. We're hoping it's a phase that will pass. Soon."
Tim's eyes, which reminded me of a particularly obnoxious form of boiled sweet, bugged out at me in the manner of an elderly pug. "Spirit guide? You have a spirit guide? I thought you worked for the Society for the Protection of Revenants."
"I do, but counseling is only a part-time position," I explained. "I also occasionally tutor English and history, and sometimes I act as a medium for persons wishing to contact the deceased. I'd probably have more of the latter work if I had a spirit guide who wasn't quite so… well, you saw Sally. But my personal problems are neither here nor there. We were discussing your successful reentry into a meaningful and productive life filled with satisfaction."
"It's neither successful, productive, nor meaningful thus far," he said in a rather petulant tone. "Surely there must be something we can do about the prejudice I've been forced to face?"
I gave a helpless shrug. "What would you suggest?"
"Well… I'm a pacifist, so I won't go the route of violence, despite what the public seems to believe of us. Perhaps a picket, or a boycott of nonrevenant companies, or oh! I know! An Internet letter-writing campaign! That worked wonders with the Save the Hedgehog folk! You should suggest that to the Society."
I opened my mouth to explain that the SPR had spent decades working to educate the public as to the true nature of their members with little success to date, but I bit back the inevitable lecture. It would do no good. Tim was newly reborn, as were many in this time of upheaval. He'd learn with time how to hide his present state. My job was not to teach him to pass as mortal—it was to get him past the first hurdles of rebirth. "I'll be sure to pass along your suggestions, but you know, something like that really needs someone with excellent organizational skills to head it up. Perhaps you'd like to start a grassroots campaign yourself? Your resume says you were very active with a human rights organization."
"Hmmm. That's an idea," Tim said with a thoughtful pause. "I suppose I could do something along those lines. Perhaps if we started small, say, a sit-in consisting of new revenants like myself to show the public that we aren't the mindless, brain-eating zombies popular movies paint us as."
"Excellent idea," I said, relieved that he was channeling his energies into something worthwhile. Most new revenants spent several months at a loss as to how to restart their lives.
"Somewhere popular, obviously. Leicester Square?"
I frowned. "There are a great many restaurants there…"
"Is that bad?" He looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded. "Ah, I see what you mean. You believe the proximity of fast food and other restaurants will be a temptation for us to leave the vegetarian lifestyle behind."
"It's been shown that revenants function much better in society if they severely limit their intake of animal flesh," I said gently. "It seems those who turn feral tend to indulge in feeding orgies at local fast-food restaurants. That's why the Society insists all members adhere to a strictly vegetarian diet. Most members have no problem, but for new people, it can be difficult to avoid the lure of a quarter-pounder with cheese. We recommend you avoid temptation for the first two months."
"Surely a hamburger now and again couldn't hurt?"
"You wouldn't think so, would you? But we've found that animal flesh is like a drug to revenants—it leaves them addicted, needing greater and greater quantities to satisfy the craving. Thus, the no-flesh diet."
For a moment, a red light lit the depths of his eyes, but it faded quickly. "Er… yes, point taken," he said solemnly. "Perhaps we can do the sit-in somewhere less likely to lead to a fall. A park? Hyde Park?"
"That sounds perfect."
"Yes. I will do that. Thank you, Ysabelle—that was an excellent suggestion. You will help with the sit-in, naturally?"
I smiled. "I'll do my best. If you have any problems, feel free to contact me."
"Very well." With a brisk nod, Tim gathered the orientation and welcome packets I'd given him. "I'd like to get started on it right away, but I suppose I should look up my wife and see what she's done to the house in the six months since I died. Knowing her, she's run amok with gingham or some other hideous scheme."
"Your family was notified last
week about your resurrection, so they should be ready to greet you," I said, getting up to show him out. "If you have any questions or problems, please don't hesitate to call. My number is on the card."
He nodded and said good-bye.
I waved him out, then hurried to Noelle's door, knocking before opening it. "How did the infestation go?"
She looked up from her laptop. "Hmm? Oh, it went well, although there were a few more coblyn than I expected. But given Salvaticus, understandable. Speaking of that, how are you holding up? I know this can't be an easy time for you."
I sighed and rubbed my neck for a moment. "I'm tired, but I think my head is still above water. This is so different from anything I've experienced as a counselor, I'm a bit overwhelmed."
"It's bound to be. How many zombies do you normally have to deal with?"
I rubbed the back of my neck again, and wished for a couple of aspirins. "Usually fewer than five a year are raised by intervention."
"Intervention? You make it sound like revenants are drugs users."
I smiled. "Intervention in this case means someone petitions a being with the power to raise the dead. It's not an easy process.
Because Salvaticus is traditionally the time of rebirth, the Society says we can expect more than three hundred new revenants over the next few days. Thank goodness this only happens every five hundred years. All the counselors are working around the clock to cope with the influx. Speaking of which, if my clients are playing poker in the hall, I'd best see to them before the neighbors start to complain about naked revenants. Sally?" I poked my head out into the flat's hall.
" Oui? Vous called?"
"Can you show in the next person? And please—watch your language. Some of these people have been dead for over a hundred years, and they're bound to be scandalized by any cursing."
My erstwhile spirit guide snorted and rolled her eyes as she drifted toward the front door. " Années du hundred est rien. Moi, je will be cent soixante-douze next March."
"And you don't look a day over one hundred and fifty," I said. "Please give the client the welcome packet, and tell him or her I'll be right there. I need to talk to Noelle first."
"It will have to be quick," Noelle said, glancing at the clock and saving her file. "I'm on duty tonight in the Tower of London's portal. It's been spewing out huge numbers of imps the last few nights, and the Tower's regular Guardian is too overwhelmed to cope with all the crossovers."
I frowned. "Salvaticus is the time of rebirth for revenants. Why would that make the imps come into our world?"
"Lots of reasons," Noelle said, snatching up her bag of tools and a small purse. "It's the week before Vexamen, the time of upheaval in Abaddon when demon lords struggle with one another for supremacy. Those battles generate an excess amount of dark power, so the imps and other beings use that to access portals that would normally be beyond their abilities. And speaking of that, I wanted to remind you to be especially careful when you go out."
"Me?" I watched as she crossed over to her bedroom window and drew a protection ward on it, then followed when she marched out and repeated the process on all the windows in the flat. "What are you doing? I thought you warded the flat every weekend."
"Those are normal household protection wards. These are different—these will keep any being of dark powers out. They don't last as long as the others. I'm drawing them because you're at risk right now."
She turned to face me as Sally showed a middle-aged woman into the sitting room. I told the woman I'd be with her in a minute.
"What are you talking about?" I asked Noelle in a low voice. "Why am I at risk? It's not like I'm a sex bunny or anything like that."
"You're sex bunny enough to capture five husbands," Noelle said with a laugh.
I thinned my lips. "They weren't captured. They were all very nice men, considerate and thoughtful, if a bit… well, that's not a discussion for today."
"That's not the danger I was talking about, but you know full well you're attractive enough. You're not cursed with red hair and freckles."
I smiled. Noelle's hair and fair skin were the bane of her existence. "Oh, you're not going to tell me that men don't like red hair, because I know that's not true. You have lots of boyfriends."
"Perhaps, but there was only one who really mattered." She stopped next to a desk, her face drawn.
I put an arm around her. I had been in the country visiting a relative when she had met, been madly attracted to, and ultimately rejected by a mysterious man about whom she was oddly reticent to speak. "I'm sorry, Belle—I don't mean to be a wet blanket about this, but it… well, it still hurts."
"Men are scum," I said sympathetically. "Most, that is. Certainly the one who dumped you is."
"He didn't dump me so much as reject what I had to offer him," she said with a sad little sigh. "I just don't know how he could do that. It doesn't seem possible—it was against all the rules—but he did."
I murmured platitudes, feeling her pain. "I know it's hard now. It's only been, what, seven months? But in time, you'll realize that this man was not meant for you."
"That's just the problem—he was meant for me," she said, turning away. "He was… oh, what does it matter? He refused me, and that was the end of it."
"Then more fool him. You are charming, attractive, smart, and a wonderful person. And for the record, I quite like your red hair and freckles."
She laughed and gave me a hug. "And I like your dark hair and gray eyes, but that's beside the point. We're quite a pair, aren't we?"
"I still don't see what any of this has to do with Salvaticus."
"Then you're being unusually obtuse. You must know that your double soul presents an extreme temptation to any servants of demon lords who are about."
My smile faded. I'd never been too comfortable with my unusual status.
"Anyone with my handicap will be a target," I said, crossing my arms and looking out the window at the rainy London morning.
A thin drizzle spotted the window and made the street gleam damply, casting a gloom over the day that had me shivering slightly.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, you aren't handicapped. You're unique! There aren't that many of you around, are there?" she asked, her head tipped to the side as she continued to study me, evidently cheered out of her own glums by my moodiness.
I shifted restlessly, uncomfortable with such close scrutiny.
"That wasn't a condemnation, you know," she said softly, then tsked when the sitting room clock chimed. "Bloody hell, I'm late.
Just watch yourself. Stay in and don't go out for the next few days just to be sure."
She was off to the front door, snatching up her coat and umbrella en route.
"I can't stay in—I have to go tutor a new child this afternoon who was sent down from his school."
"I can't! I need the money. I'm tired of borrowing from you just to pay for groceries and things."
She paused at the door to make a face. "Why you continue to spend every spare minute of your time with that Society when they don't pay you—"
"You know why I volunteer with them. They need me. It's not their fault they don't have the budget to pay their counselors. I was lucky to get this tutoring job, so I'm not going to cancel and risk losing the only source of income I have."
She touched a blue and green tapestry that hung on the hall wall. "You could always sell some hangings."
I wrapped my arms around my waist, a little prick of pain burning deep within me. "I've sold my loom. I've sold all my wools and other equipment. I've sold everything I could, but that piece is the only thing I have left of myself. I can't sell it, I just can't."
Noelle smiled. "I'm not asking you to, Belle. I know how much this means to you. Don't worry about money—we'll get by somehow. I can always take on some extra work if need be. Just stay here and take care of your zombies."
"Revenants," I said automatically as she slipped out the door, her red curls bobbing m
Worry held me in its ever-present grip, tightening across my chest until every breath was an effort to take. Noelle might be willing to do my share as well as hers, but that was a situation I couldn't tolerate. Despite her warning about being a target of the dark powers, I had to go to the tutoring job. A girl's pride could only take so many blows.
" Vous est coming?" Sally asked, poking her head through the door. I rubbed the goose bumps on my arms that remained as Noelle's words echoed in my head. " Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? You look tres worried."
"Nothing's wrong, and yes, I'm coming. I'm not worried, it's just…" I rubbed my arms again, trying to disburse the somber feeling that had been left in the wake of Noelle's warning. "It's nothing. Just someone walking over my grave."
Sally pursed her lips but said nothing as I entered the sitting room. Considering the obvious, I counted that as a minor miracle.
"Oh God, not more…" Followed by a dozen or so tiny yellow imps, I burst out of the tube station and ran like a maniac down the street, tossing apologies over my shoulder as I occasionally bumped into people on their way home. It was early evening, and the sodden sky did nothing to lighten the way as I raced down streets, cut through alleys, leaping over fences and rubbish bins in the manner of a hyperactive Olympic hurdler. "Pardon me. So sorry. My apologies, sir."
" Belle! Vous êtes banging my head dans la bottle of water!"
"I'm a little busy at the moment, Sally," I muttered through gritted teeth. Mindful of my spirit guide's head, I spun around the corner as carefully as possible, but ended up skidding on the wet pavement and slamming into a large figure that loomed up out of nowhere.
"Oooph," the man grunted as I collided with him, falling backward. Inside my purse, Sally yelled out copious curses in mangled French.
My arms flailed as I attempted to regain my balance, but it did no good. We fell in a tangled heap of arms and legs, my nose bumping his cheekbone, his warm lips pressed against mine. For a moment I lay stunned—both by the blow and the fact that I was inadvertantly kissing a total stranger.