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Undead and Uneasy

MaryJanice Davidson



  Once, there was a beautiful queen who was as terrible on the inside as she was glorious on the outside. She was vain, wicked, cold, and selfish. Her greatest pleasures were her coalfire earrings, terrible wieldy things that swung past her shoulders. Each stone was as big around as the ball of the queen's thumb, and it was said more than a thousand men died mining the bloodred rocks.

  So conceited was this queen, and so greatly did she love her coalfire earrings, that she threatened a curse upon any who might steal them from her. So naturally, her people waited until the queen died before taking them.

  The four thieves (who in truth cannot be called grave robbers, because no one waited until the hated queen was buried) went to her unguarded body and helped themselves. The body was unguarded because the parties celebrating the new monarchs (the dead queen's cousin, a plain but generous woman; and her husband, a shy healer) were in full swing, and no one especially cared about guarding a dead jerk.

  The first of the four dropped dead before he could mount his horse. The second of the four died after his tent mysteriously caught fire the next night. The third made it to the coast, sold the earrings for a splendid sum, and promptly dropped dead of a brainstorm, what today is known as an aneurysm. What happened to the fourth is not known.

  The man who bought the earrings had them in his shop for three and a half days. He sold the earrings to a man of some wealth and standing, just before his shop was struck by hundreds of successive strokes of lightning, sparing his life but driving him out of business forever, and leaving him with a lifelong fear of flashing lights and loud noises.

  The man of wealth and standing was the manservant of a European prince (history is vague on which one). He delivered the earrings to his master, and one hour later, the prince ingested a lethal amount of tainted meat, along with half of one of the earrings, which was later extracted during the autopsy.

  The earrings eventually reached London, but not after causing a series of increasingly odd and gruesome disasters along the way, including but not limited to a pig plague, a tomato blight, a series of foals born with five legs, multiple drownings several miles away from any natural source of water, and a viciously quick mammal that no one ever saw clearly enough to describe well.

  The day the jewelry went on display at the BritishMuseum in their Return of Egyptian Antiquities Exhibit, the head of security suffered a fatal heart attack, the gift shop girl went blind, and three tour guides were stricken with crippling dysentery.

  The earrings stayed in the museum for many years. Probably. The earrings, it seemed, disliked staying in one spot, and curators were known to snatch themselves bald looking for the jewels.

  They turned up once in the Neanderthal exhibit, twice in the men's urinal on the second floor, six times in the gift shop (by now word of the "cursed" earrings had spread, and no museum employee, no matter how long her hours or how low her pay, dared touch them), and four times in the cafeteria (where an unwary museum guest nearly choked to death on one). They also went on an unscheduled, miniature tour around the world, disappearing and being found in no fewer than eight exhibits: Japan, Rome, Manila, Greece, the Americas, Britain, the Pacific, and the Near East. Each of the other museums, aware of the artifacts' history, returned the jewels to Britain quickly and without comment.

  Eventually the BritishMuseum came under new management (the last curator having taken forced early retirement for mysteriously losing his fingers and his sense of smell) who, in an attempt to score points with the House of Windsor, made a gift of the earrings to Diana, the Princess of Wales.

  Some time later, they came into the possession of a very old, very curious vampire who had the idea of breaking the earrings into a series of smaller stones and shipping them in twenty-five different directions around the planet. You know, just to see what would happen.

  One of the stones ended up in Minnesota, right about at the turn of the twenty-first century. Nobody knows the exact date, because those involved in the shipment arrangements simply cannot be found. Chapter 1


  There are three things wrong with that card," the king of the vampires told me. "One, my love for you is not anything like 'shimmering amber waves of summer wheat. ' Two, my love for you has nothing to do with adorable, fluffy cartoon rabbits. Three. . . " And he sighed here. "Rabbits do not sparkle. "

  I looked at the shiny yellow card, aglitter with sparkling bunnies. It was the least objectionable of the pile of two dozen I had spread all over our bed. What could I say? He had a point. Three of them. "It's just an example-don't have a heart attack and friggin' die on me, all right?"

  "I do not have," he muttered, "that kind of good fortune. "

  "I heard that. I'm just saying, there will be a lot of people at the wedding"-I ignored Sinclair's shudder-"but there will also be people who can't make it. You know, due to having other plans or being dead, or whatever. So what you do is, you send a wedding announcement to pull in all the people who couldn't come. That way people know we actually did the deed. It's polite. " I racked my brain for the perfect way to describe it so my reluctant groom would clamber aboard. "It's, you know, civilized. "

  "It is a voracious grab for gifts from the crude and uncouth. "

  "That's true," I acknowledged after a minute, knowing well where I was in the Wars of the Couth. Come on, we all knew he was right. There was no point-no point-in all those birth and wedding and graduation announcements beyond, "Hey! Limber up the old checkbook; something new has happened in our family. Cash is also fine. "

  "But it's still nice. You didn't fuss nearly so much about the invitations. "

  "The invitations have a logical point. "

  "The invitations are weird. Just 'Sinclair,' like you don't have a middle or first name. Why wouldn't you put your full name on the thing?"

  "Our community knows me as Sinclair. "

  'Our' my butt. He meant the vampire community. I couldn't resist one last dig. "I'm marrying Cher!"

  "Don't tease. "

  I bit my tongue for what felt like the hundredth time that night. . . and it was barely 9:00 p. m. With the wedding only three weeks away, Sinclair, my blushing groom, was growing bitchier by the hour.

  He had never liked the idea of a formal wedding with a minister and flower girls and a wedding cake frosted with colored Crisco. He said that because the Book of the Dead proclaimed him my consort, we were already married and would be for a thousand years. Period. End of discussion. Everything else? A waste of time. And money. Tough to tell the greater sin in his eyes.

  After what seemed like a thousand years (but was only one and a half) I'd gotten Eric (yes, he had a first name) to profess his love, propose, give me a ring, and agree to a ceremony. But he never promised to take his dose without kicking, and he sure never promised to get married without a heavy dose of snark.

  I had two choices. I could rise to his bitchy comments with a few of my own, and we could end up in a wicked big fight, again. Or, I could ignore his bitchy comments and go about my day, er, night, and after the wedding, Sinclair would be my sweet blushing boy-toy again.

  Then there was the honeymoon to look forward to: two weeks in New York City, a place I'd never been! I'd heard NYC was a great place to visit, if you had money. Sinclair had gobs of money to his name. Ew, which reminded me.

  "By the way, I'm not taking your name. It's nothing personal-"

  "Not personal? It is my name. "

  "-it's just how I was raised. "

  "Your mother took your father's name and, even after he left her for the lethal flirtations of another woman, kept his name. Which is why, to this day, there are two Mrs. Taylors in town. So in fact, it is not how you
were raised. "

  I glared. He glared back, except his was more like a sneer. Since Sinclair looked like he was sneering even when he was unconscious, it was tough to tell. All I knew was, we were headed for yet another argument and thank goodness we were doing it in our bedroom, where one of the house's many live-ins weren't likely to bother us. Or, even worse, rate us (Marc had given our last fight a 7. 6-we started with an 8 based on volume alone, but he had taken four-tenths of a point off for lack of originality in name-calling).

  We lived (and would presumably for the next thousand years-hope Jessica was paid up on her damage insurance) in a big old mansion on

  Summit Avenue

  in St. Paul. Me, Sinclair, my best friend Jessica, Marc, and a whole bunch of others I'm just too tired to list right now. I adored my friends, but sometimes I couldn't help wishing they'd all just disappear for the sake of some peace and quiet.

  Retreating to the master suite, where we were currently arguing, was an acceptable substitute for actual solitude. I'd never seen a divine bathroom before, much less been in one, but after taking a bath in the eight-foot-long whirlpool tub, I'd come to believe God could act through bubbles.

  The whole place was like a bed and breakfast-the fanciest, nicest one in the whole world, where the fridge was always full, the sheets were always fresh, and you never had to check out and go home. Even the closets were sublime, with more scrollwork than you could shake a stick at. Having come from a long line of tract housing families, I'd resisted the move here last year. But now I loved it. I still couldn't believe I actually lived in a mansion of all things. Some of the rooms were so big, I hardly noticed Sinclair.

  Okay, that was a lie. Eric Sinclair filled every room he was in, even if he was just sitting in the corner reading a newspaper. Big-well over six feet-with the build of a farmer (which he had been) who kept in shape (which he did): wide, heavily muscled shoulders, long legs, narrow waist, flat stomach, big hands, big teeth, big dick. Alpha male all the way. And he was mine. Mine, I tell you!

  Sinclair was seventy-something-I was vague on the details, and he rarely volunteered autobiographical info-but had died in his thirties, so his black hair was unmarked by gray; his broad, handsome face was without so much as a sun wrinkle. He had a grin that made Tom Cruise look like a snaggle-toothed octogenarian.

  He was dynamite in bed-ooh, boy, was he! He was rich (possibly richer than Jessica, who had arranged for the purchase of this mansion). He was strong-I'd seen him pull a man's arm off his body like you or I would pull a chicken wing apart. And I mentioned the vampire part, right? That he was the king of the vampires?

  And I was the queen. His queen.

  Never mind what the Book of the Dead said, never mind that he'd tricked me into the queen gig, never mind what other vampires said; shit, never mind what my mom said. I loved Eric (when he wasn't being a pud), and he loved me (I was almost positive); and in my book (which wasn't bound in human skin and written in blood, thank you very much) that meant we collared a justice of the peace and got him to say "Husband and Wife. "

  Two years ago, I would have said a minister. But if a man of God said a blessing over Eric Sinclair, sprinkled him with holy water, or handed him a collection plate, my darling groom would go up in flames, and it'd be really awkward.

  Anyway, that was the way I wanted things. The way I needed them. And really, it seemed a small enough thing to ask. Especially when you look at all the shit I had put up with since rising from the dead. Frankly, if the king of the vampires didn't like it, he could take a flying fuck at a rolling garter belt.

  "If you don't like it," I said, "you can take a flying fuck at a rolling garter belt. "

  "Is that another of your tribe's charming post-ceremony activities?"

  "What is this 'my tribe' crapola?" I'd given up on the announcements and had started folding my T-shirts-the basket had been silently condemning me for almost a week. Jessica had hired plenty of servants, but we all insisted on doing our own laundry. Except Sinclair. I think Tina (his super-butler/major domo/assistant) did his. He could hold his damned breath waiting for me to step up.

  I dropped the fresh, clean T-shirt so I could put my hands on my hips and really give him the glare. "Your dad was a Minnesota farmer. This I'm-an-aristocrat-and-you're-a-peasant schtick stinks like a rotten apple. "

  Sinclair, working at the desk in the corner (in a black suit, on a Tuesday night-it was the equivalent of a guy getting up on his day off and immediately putting on a Kenneth Cole before so much as eating a bowl of cornflakes), simply shrugged and did not look up. That was his way: to taunt, to make an irritating observation, and then refuse to engage. He swore it was proof of his love, that he'd have killed anyone else months ago.

  "I am just so sick of you acting like this wedding thing is all me and has nothing to do with you. "

  He didn't look up, and he didn't put his pen down. "This wedding thing is all you and has nothing to do with me. "

  "I'll bet you haven't even worked on your vows yet. "

  "I certainly have. "

  "Fine, smart-ass. Let's hear it. "

  He laid his pen down, closed his eyes, licked his lips, and took a deep breath. "Alas, the penis is such a ridiculous petitioner. It is so unreliable, though everything depends on it-the world is balanced on it like a ball on a seal's nose. It is so easily teased, insulted, betrayed, abandoned; yet it must pretend to be invulnerable, a weapon which confers magical powers upon its possessor; consequently this muscle-less inchworm must try to swagger through temples and pull apart thighs like the hairiest Samson, the mightiest ram. " Opening his eyes and taking in my horrified expression, he added, "William Gass, 'Metaphor and Measurement'. "

  Then he picked up his pen and returned to his work. With a shriek of rage, I yanked my engagement ring off my finger, yelped (it stuck to my second knuckle), and threw it at him, hard.

  He snatched it out of the air without looking and tossed it back at me. I flailed at it, juggled it madly, then finally clenched it in my cold fist.

  "Oh no you don't, love. You insisted on a gauche representation of my feelings and you will wear it. And if you throw it at me again," he continued absently, turning crumbling sheets of parchments, never looking up, "I will make you eat it. "

  "Eat this!' I flipped him the bird. I could actually feel my blood pressure climbing. Not that I had blood pressure. But I knew what it felt like. And I knew I was acting like a brat. But what was the matter with him? Why was he being so cold, so distant, so-so Sinclair? We hadn't even made love since. . . I started I counting on my fingers and gave up after I'd reached last Thursday. Instead we were sharing blood without sex-a first for us. It was like-like being used like a Kleenex and tossed accordingly.

  What was wrong with him? What was wrong with me? I was getting everything I ever wanted. Since I woke up dead, right? Right?

  I was so caught up in my mental bitching I hadn't noticed that Sinclair had advanced on me like a cat on a rat.

  "Put your trinket on, darling, lest you lose it again. "

  I ignored the urge to pierce his left nostril with it. He was soooo lucky I liked rubies.

  I managed (barely) to evade his kiss. 'What? You think we're going to have sex now?"

  "I had hopes," he admitted, dodging a fist.

  "Don't we have to make up before the makeup sex?"

  "I don't see why," he said, pressing me down onto the bed.

  I grumbled, but his hands felt fine, and I figured it was just as well to let him think he was in charge. (He did only think that, right?) His mouth was on mine, then on my neck, his hands were under my shirt, then tugging and pulling on my pants. I felt his teeth pierce my throat, felt the dizzying sensation of being taken, being used, as he sipped my cool blood. His hands were on my ass, pulling me toward him, and then he was sliding into me, and that was that, the fight was over. Or at least on hold.

  We rocked together for a fine time, and I
counted my orgasms like fireworks going off in my brain: one, two, three!

  (Elizabeth, my own, my queen, my. . . bride. )

  "Get used to that one," I panted, meeting his thrusts with my hips, trying not to hear the laughter in his head.

  He bit me on the other side of my throat, and I thought, we're going to have to change the sheets. Stupid undead lovemaking!

  He stiffened over me and then rolled away, stifling a yawn. "There, now. Don't you feel better?"

  "Loads. So about the wedding-"

  "The ceremony we have no use for?"

  Poof. All gone, afterglow. "Shutup! Some moldy old book written by dead guys tells you we're married, and that's good enough for you?"

  "Are we discussing the Book of the Dead, or the"- He made a terrible face, like he was trying to spit out a mouse, and then coughed it out-"Bible?"

  "Very funny!" Though I was impressed; even a year ago, he could never have said Bible. Maybe I was rubbing off on him? He was certainly rubbing off on me; I'd since found out the Wall Street Journal made splendid kindling. "Look, I'd just like you to say, just once, just this one time, I'd like to hear that you're happy we're getting married,"

  "I am happy," he yawned, "and we are married. " And around and around we went. I wasn't stupid. I was aware that to the vampires, the Book of the Dead was a bible of sorts, and if it said we were consorts and coregents, then it was a done deal.

  But I was a different sort of vampire. I'd managed (I think) to hang on to my humanity. A little, anyway. And I wanted a real wedding. With cake, even if I couldn't eat it. And flowers. And Sinclair slipping a ring on my finger and looking at me like I was the only woman in the universe for him. A ring to match the gorgeous gold engagement band clustered with diamonds and rubies, wholly unique and utterly beautiful and proof that I was his. And me looking understated yet devastating in a smashingly simple wedding gown, looking scrumptious and gorgeous for him. Looking bridal. And him looking dark and sinister and frightening to everyone except me. Him smiling at me, not that nasty-nice grin he used on everyone else.

  And we'd be a normal couple. A nice, normal couple who could start a-start a-

  "I just wish we could have a baby," I fretted, twisting my ring around and around on my finger.