"You've got to thoroughly kill me. No half-assed Betsy stunts."
"I've got to be really dead," he continued, ignoring my outraged yelp. "And since we've got the weight of about a hundred zombie movies on our side, I'm thinking decapitation."
"Marc, I didn't not bring you back to life just to kill you."
"Yeah, but we still don't know who did it, right? So we're right back where we started."
"But you won't be the Marc Thing now."
"Who says? Maybe shambling around in your wake for a few hundred years will turn me into something even worse."
I shuddered. No chance.
"Try, just this one time, Betsy, try to put yourself in someone else's Marc Jacobses. I killed myself to avoid the future. So think what it must be like to find out I'm even more repulsive than a fucking psycho vampire!"
"But you aren't. Repulsive, I mean." He really wasn't. He didn't rot or stink. He didn't lurch around the house after physical brains; he just wanted mental stimulation. In fact, I could see no sign of even the slightest decomp … and sadly I knew what stages of decomposition looked like. "Now that I've gotten over my gross shock, I-I think it's kind of cool that you're back."
"You dumbass! Name one good thing about being a zombie."
"You can't die again." It was what my mom had loved about me coming back as a vampire … she'd never again have to worry about me being a victim of a ten-car mash-up, or a date rapist.
He raised his eyebrows. "Wanna bet? See, that's where you come in."
"I think you'd better think this through."
He began to pace. "A vampire, okay. Not being able to eat solid food looked like a downer, but on the other hand, I'm best friends with the queen of the vamps! Being a vampire would have been very cool. Until I met the Marc Thing."
"Really?" I said, pleased. "Best friends? Aw, Marc, I love you, too."
"Will you focus, you undead bitch?" he cried.
"Say it, don't spray it," I muttered, refusing to look at him.
"But this?" He gestured to his mild-mannered, nonrotting self. "I've got to constantly find this interesting to keep my brain occupied."
"Just like you did in life. It's true!" I added as he opened his mouth to bitch more. "You were always chasing excitement. This is nothing new."
"And how will I ever find a guy who wants to be with a corpse, for God's sake?"
Okay. He had me there.
"Right," he said, correctly reading my expression. "I can't have a relationship and I can't be a doctor. So what's left for me but pain and betrayal and going crazy? I don't sleep, Betsy, have you noticed?"
"I'm sure I would have eventually."
"I don't sleep, and my skills are getting atrophied. I'm fucking useless to you-and me-like this."
I couldn't stand to hear him talk about himself with such loathing. "Marc, you have worth!" I thumped my fist against his chest to make my point. "You're still a doctor, you're just a dead doctor. You can still-"
"Cut up dead cats?"
"Provide really, really advanced first aid. Maybe you can't do surgery or stuff like that, but you can still help people in trouble … and I bet you could talk a layman through something complex. You're not some worthless rotting zombie … we need you!"
"I don't give a shit; I'm not hanging around like an extra in a George Romero vehicle. So c'mon. Let's figure this out. How will you kill me?"
"I'm not. Listen, we'll figure something out, okay? How do you not get that this is a gift?"
"A gift?" he yowled. "Oh my God. Just when I was pretty sure you couldn't get any dumber."
"Insulting me won't get you what you want," I snapped.
"Oh yeah?" Up went his dark brows again. "It's your fault there isn't a single Christian Louboutin pump anywhere on the planet."
"That's … don't. Don't say that."
"This Christian guy was all you could babble about when you came back from hell, but he's nowhere to be found because you fucked up the timeline."
"All those sexy high heels he thought up are gone and, worse, won't ever be, and instead you've got a closet full of velvet clogs and it's all your fault."
"You don't say that ever!"
"And your hair," Zombie Marc concluded, "looks stupid. Nobody's doing red lowlights anymore. So: stupid and dated. Grrggh! Argh! Hey, wait," he gurgled. "Things're going dark! Maybe this'll work. Margle! Sqzz hrdr."
This. This was what my life had become. I was strangling my zombie roommate over clogs and highlights. And he'd had trouble getting laid before he died. After a sweet moment of feeling his esophagus crackle under my fingers, I let go.
"Dammit! Look what you almost made me do. That was just plain stupid."
"I know. I mean, why would that have even worked?" he mused, rubbing his throat. "You could have crushed my trachea and I'd still be walking and talking. No, decapitation is the way to go."
"Don't tease me about crushing your trachea," I muttered.
"Ah, decapitation," a most unwelcome voice said. "One of the classics."
We looked. Lounging indolently on the two-seat sofa in a navy blue Donna Karan suit, sheer black hose, and breathtaking peau de soie black fuck-me heels was Satan herself.
"Well, great," was all I could come up with.
"So it's true." The devil, who looked like Lena Olin-she had the cougar thing down-looked irked. "You're supposed to be somewhere else, boy," she told Marc. "You are not supposed to be here, in the state you are in, right now. It's all wrong." She shook her head. "I might have known you'd screw it up."
"Ha ha, Lena Olin, shows what you know. I didn't have anything to do with that." I pointed triumphantly at Marc.
"You did, actually." She crossed her legs and admired the toes of her beautiful shoes. Then she looked at Marc. "What do you have to say for yourself, boy?"
"That I really want someone to kill me right now, and if you've got a minute…"
"I can't touch you, and you damned well know it," Satan snapped. "You're hers now, and I can't-wait. Ahhh … you don't know that yet. None of you nitwits know that yet." She sighed, aggrieved. "Ask me how much I loathe time travel."
"Is that why you popped in from hell? To bitch?"
"No, mostly to see for myself. Unfortunately, the rumors were true."
"Mother!" Laura had rushed back to the parlor, Sinclair right behind her, so quickly I barely had time to realize they were back in the room before my sister was screeching at her mother. "Get out of here! This has nothing to do with you!"
"Wrong, wrong, wrong." She eyed Laura's old sweatshirt and muddy shoes. "You're looking … ah … frumpy."
"Go away, Mother."
"But I have to be here when she finds out. Well, perhaps I don't have to," the devil admitted, "but I must insist on watching the whole sordid scene." Then she tittered. Tittered.
Sinclair was stepping in front of me, which sometimes made me feel cherished, and other times-like now-made me feel like he was crowding me into a corner. I put a hand on his shoulder and shoved him aside. "It's fine, Sinclair, we're all fine, and Satan here was just hopping back on her broomstick to go back to hell or Newark or wherever."
"A New Jersey joke?" Satan rolled her eyes. "At least no one has ever tried that before."
"Doesn't my nasty stepmother have something else on your schedule for today?" Antonia Taylor-the Ant-was Laura's biological mother and my stepmother, or had been in life. In death she was Satan's assistant, or whatever the hell she does down there in hell. Which made my brain hurt. First, what were the odds that I'd have two Antonias in my life? Second, what were the odds that if I called one of them Antonia-from-hell, it wasn't specific enough? "Anything else?"
"Sadly, no." The devil looked right at Laura. "Are you going to tell her, or shall I?"
"Mother, don't. I told you I'd handle it."
"Well, thus far, you haven't."
"It's been less than a week!" she howled.
"Time isn't always on your side, Laura, even if you're a time traveler."
"Okay, at least that wasn't cryptic and weird. Get thee behind us, Satan. We've got stuff to take care of, and your name was nowhere on the guest list for my Thanksgiving party."
Satan wrinkled her adorable nose. "But you loathe Thanksgiving."
"Never mind! Get the heck out of my house!"
"Indeed," Sinclair said, trying once again to shove me behind him.
"Oh, but this concerns you, too, Eric. You most of all, I think."
"Mother. Don't do it."
Satan's demeanor lost all playfulness; now she was giving off all the warmth of an ice sculpture. "Then you'd best get to it, daughter."
There was a long silence while mother and daughter locked gazes, broken by Marc's puzzled, "What's she talking about? What's wrong? Uh, besides all the obvious stuff…"
Laura dropped her gaze and slowly turned so she was facing the three of us. "I didn't want to meet at the farm-"
"Puppy farm," I interrupted, still annoyed at the puppy hair that was now everywhere.
"Just to talk about Jon Delk. I also wanted to come back here with you to talk about this." She ducked out of the parlor, and I could hear her rummaging around in one of the coat closets in the huge entryway, and then she came back carrying-ugh-the Book of the Dead. "We've got to talk about this."
"Gross! Why? Jeez, Laura-sorry, Sinclair-jeepers, Laura, you and I bounced all over time, and in and out of hell, so I could learn to read the stupid thing without going batshit nutballs, then you steal it and refuse to give it back. Except now, less than a week later, you did bring it back. After stashing it in a coat closet?"
"Thank you so much for the recap, Vampire Queen."
"Pipe down, Lena Olin. So why, Laura? Just what is it about this nasty thing that's got you so freaked out?"
"Besides the obvious," Marc added.
Even now, feeling our impatience, feeling the devil's ire, Laura couldn't seem to spit it out. We watched her struggle with the words, and when they finally came, it's like they were wrenched out of her. Torn from her.
"Betsy, in the future, you write the Book of the Dead."
"No, really. Then you ask the devil to put it back in time, so the first vampires find it and keep passing it down through the ages. It's not a book that tells your future … it's a book that lists your past, because you wrote it in the future, when you already knew everything."
I laughed harder. Oh, this was rich! I couldn't even write a grocery list, never mind that nasty thing.
"And the reason you did that-do that-is because the Book is Sinclair."
"Like … about Sinclair?" Marc asked.
"No. It is Sinclair. It's his skin the Book is written on."
I stopped laughing.